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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


The Anthropology of Health research group has strengths in several core areas, ranging from local and regional public health anthropology; global health interventions that reach across several continents; mother-child interactions and early life influences on health; the anthropology of science, technology and medicine; and evolutionary and ecological approaches to medicine and health.

Public Health Anthropology

Members of the Anthropology of Health group have developed and maintained strong links with local and national health organisations, with a regional focus in the north-east of England and with UK NHS providers.

  • Dr Andrew Russell studies new organisational forms in public health, with a particular focus on complex lifestyle behaviours such as smoking
  • Dr Peter Collins conducts research looking at hospital design, the space and place of hospital chaplaincies, and policy and process in the NHS
  • Prof Helen Ball develops and advises on resources and interventions related to her research in parent-infant sleep, including online information sources ( and education campaigns (

Global Health Interventions

Several members of the group and their students are applying anthropological theory and practice to health issues across the world, particularly in developing countries where the results of both global and local inequalities are all too visible.

Early Life Influences on Health and Mother-Child Interactions

Infant and child health is a focus of research within three dedicated labs run by members of the Anthropology of Health group.

Anthropology of Science, Medicine and Technology

A number of Anthropology of Health group members and their students are studying how novel technologies and scientific methods are impacting upon medicine and healthcare.

  • Prof Bob Simpson studies the anthropology of bioethics, genetics and new reproductive technologies, such as how novel biotechnologies interact with local systems of values and beliefs in Sri Lanka.
  • Dr Kate Hampshire examines the use of communications technology (especially mobile phones) in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Dr Hannah Brown studies health systems and the governance of health in Kenya, including responses to and understanding of animal-human zoonotic diseases and epidemics

Evolutionary Medicine/Health

Overlap with the Evolutionary Anthropology Research Group provides strong expertise in evolutionary medicine/health, where evolutionary and ecological principles are used to inform understanding of medicine and human health.

  • Prof Gillian Bentley examines how changing developmental environments, including nutritional environments, affect reproductive function and health across the life course.
  • Dr Ian Rickard’s research looks at natural selection in modern human populations, including selection on birth size in Gambia and the consequences of childhood nutrition on later reproduction in European populations
  • Dr Sarah Elton is interested in the evolution of human dietary variability, as well as reflexive accounts of evolutionary medical approaches
  • Dr Jeremy Kendal studies the cultural evolution and transmission of health-related behaviours such as binge drinking and ineffective medical treatments
  • Dr Tessa Pollard looks at how the mismatch between past and current environments, especially relating to physical activity and diet, may lead to a range of health problems.
  • Prof Helen Ball studies mother-infant sleep from an evolutionary perspective, comparing modern, traditional and past feeding and sleeping practices, and their biological and cultural consequences.