Prof. Ellen Block


Ellen Block received her PhD in Anthropology and Social Work from the University of Michigan in 2012.  She joined us in 2014 from Brown University in Providence, RI, where she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Population Studies and Training Center.

Her work centers on the intersections of health, kinship and care in sub-Saharan Africa. She is currently working on a project that examines the emergence of new forms of elder care in Ghana, in light of a rapidly aging population. Thus far, kin-based care has predominated in providing care for elderly people in Ghana. However, such caregiving methods, in the face of population shifts such as longevity, decreased fertility, and increased migration, are already stretched to their limit and will be unsuccessful in managing the ever-increasing number of elders and the complexity of the health challenges they face. This project explores the ways that individuals, entrepreneurs, governments and non-governmental organizations build and legitimate elder care practices in culturally appropriate ways, and examines how such care is perceived by the elderly people receiving it. 

In her first book, "Infected Kin: Orphan Care and AIDS in Lesotho." (2019, Rutgers University Press), Block argues that AIDS is fundamentally a kinship disease, examining the ways it transcends infected individuals and seeps into kin relations and networks of care. The creative collaboration between Block and her writer/husband Will McGrath (author of Everything Lost is Found Again) blends ethnographic scholarship and creative nonfiction to bring to life the joys and struggles of the Basotho people at the heart of the AIDS pandemic. 

Ellen's research has been funded most recently by a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant. Her work appeared in a number of books and journals including JRAIAnthropological Quarterly, AIDS Care, Death Studies, and Social Dynamics.

Infected Kin Teaching Resources: Please see this link to access a variety of teaching materials and supplemental resources.

SJU Office: 118 Simons

[email protected]

Fall 2020: Sabbatical

Spring 2021 courses:

SOCI 277A Global Health - B2 Block 

SOCI 324 - Anthropology of Africa - C3 Block 

Africa is an immense continent of strikingly rich and diverse geography, politics and cultures. This course explores many of the central issues and debates in the anthropological study of contemporary Africa, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Media representations of Africa often focus solely on suffering, poverty, disease and corruption. African life is also frequently portrayed as a singular unified experience. Yet, African societies and communities are dynamic: both in their cultural, political and historical diversity, and in their responses to the legacies of colonialism and the challenges of the contemporary global context. While this course will examine many of the problems that contemporary Africans face, we will also contextualize these problems and counter prevailing narratives about Africa by exploring the resilience and rich cultural life on the continent. Topics will include: colonialism and post-colonialism, political economies, kinship and social organization, religion, health, gender, globalization, sexuality, and arts.

More information about Prof. Ellen Block, including her publications, can be found on her CV or her page.