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Alexandra Pillen’s area of expertise is cross-cultural healthcare as well as the anthropology of war-torn or post-conflict societies. She has been teaching in the Department of Anthropology at UCL since 2001, and currently teaches Medical Anthropology to MSc students as well as Advanced Social and Cultural Anthropology to 3rd year undergraduate students. She is a medical doctor (MD, 1994, University of Louvain), who later specialized in medical anthropology through a PhD in the department of Anthropology at UCL (1995- 2000). Her teaching reflects her key interest first of all in medical anthropology and secondly in linguistic anthropology. Currently she is developing a short course on ‘working with interpreters’ for health professionals who work with refugees and members of black and minority ethnic communities in the UK.
Alexandra Pillen is the author of Masking Terror. How Women Contain Violence in Southern Sri Lanka. (Pennsylvania University Press, Ethnography of Political Violence Series, 2003). This monograph provides a detailed socio-linguistic analysis of women’s discourses on domestic and political violence in the rural slum of Udahenagama (pseudonym). The wider research questions that inspired this research concern both the role of traditional healthcare in post-war rehabilitation as well the impact of a social fabric maimed by war on the health and well-being of women and children.
While Medical Anthropology concerns the study of cultural understanding of health and illness as well health care systems in non-Western cultures, Alexandra Pillen is committed to develop this field as a broadly-based subject with close ties to developments within social and linguistic anthropology. As much as a study of traditional medicine and the conceptual basis of modern medicine is a core aspect of Medical Anthropology, so is the study of rapid socio-cultural change in the many war-torn societies around the world. Within the contemporary context of humanitarian aid operations in war-ravaged countries as well as healthcare for refugees fleeing such societies, not only a focus on ‘culturally appropriate healthcare’ is a necessity, but also an understanding of the impact of war and conflict on the people, communities and cultures we work with. Alexandra Pillen’s interest in the anthropology of war-torn societies is furthermore reflected by her role as an advisory panel member of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation for the Study of Human Violence, Dominance and Aggression (since 2005), based in New York.
Subsequent research further reflects her earlier work, and concerns maternal and child health in the Kurdish community in Haringey. This project is currently in its pilot phase; extensive language training in Kurmanji (2004- ) providing the base for a future community-based study of Kurdish women’s access to NHS healthcare. Interpreters provide mono-lingual Kurdish women access to health and social services. This study will focus on the selection of interpreters by the Kurdish community as well as organizations providing training for interpreters in London. A linguistic anthropology of Kurdish women’s cultural and linguistic predicament in London will raise questions about transitions from kin-based politics to engagement within British civil society, the impact of ongoing war and conflict on the experience of local state-making projects, and the cultural aspects of healthcare within a beleaguered cultural environment. Alexandra Pillen is delighted to work in a university that includes both a Department of Anthropology and a Medical School; a context conducive to cross-disciplinary debates both in terms of teaching as well as research.
Alexandra Pillen welcomes applications from graduate students with an interest in post-conflict societies, nascent public spheres, the construction of collective forms of remembering, as well as ethno-linguistic differentiation or fragmentation, and its impact on refugee health. She very much welcomes research proposals which - in methodological terms - are influenced by linguistic anthropology, socio-linguistics or discourse analysis.
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