2019 Guest Speakers


Joanna Kempner, associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University and affiliate member of Rutgers’s Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, works at the intersection of medicine, science, gender, and the body. Her research investigates knowledge production as cultural work, inscribed with and shaped by tacit assumptions about social relations across gender, race, and class. Her first book, Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health (Chicago 2014), examines the social values embedded in the way we talk about, understand, and make policies for people in pain. She has also written extensively on the formation of “forbidden knowledge,” which are the boundaries that form around what we think is too dangerous, sensitive or taboo to research. Kempner is currently working on several projects related to the politics of disease, pharmaceutical development, and health care delivery, including a book manuscript on the various successes of underground psychedelic drug research.

Professor Kempner received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, participated in the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Research Program and worked as a Research Associate at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University. She has won several awards for her research, including the 2016 American Sociological Association’s Eliot Freidson award for Outstanding Publication in Medical Sociology in honor of Not Tonight. She writes for a wide variety of audiences, publishing in journals like Science, Social Science & Medicine, Gender & Society, and Public Library of Science Medicine.

Dr. Kempner's Keynote Address is:

The Daytrippers: Psychedelics, Citizen Scientists, and the Will to Survive

Psychedelic substances have reemerged as the subject of serious biomedical research, despite prohibitive governmental regulations on the study of these drugs. In this talk, Kempner addresses the role that citizen scientists and a “psychedelic underground” have played in fueling the “psychedelic renaissance.” Kempner will draw on her wide-ranging historical and ethnographic study of one such underground network, the Clusterbusters, a group of people with cluster headache, an excruciating and hard-to-treat pain diagnosis, whose underground protocol for using psilocybin-containing mushrooms to prevent attacks is now under study at a clinical trial at Yale. This case study enables an analysis of how informal networks of expertise enabled academic and nonacademic researchers to partner in their efforts to resist the prohibitory politics of drug research in the United States. Kempner’s talk will also highlight the methodological challenges and joys of conducting a multi-sited, digital, and relational ethnography.


Joseph Kotarba, PhD, is Professor of Sociology at Texas State University. He is also Medical Sociologist at the Institute for Translational Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. Dr. Kotarba received his doctorate from the University of California, San Diego. His major areas of scholarly interest are health, culture, and science. Dr. Kotarba’s studies in health have included (among others) the chronic pain experience; the social organization of aerospace medicine; the HIV/AIDS hospice; the delivery of emergency health care at pop music festivals; women’s and men’s sports medicine as occupational health care; and the team concept in community health care. He is currently writing on the culture of biomedical team science; the impact of the translational science movement on scientists’ self-identity; recreational and therapeutic music experiences among the elderly; and the persistence of existential ideas in contemporary intellectual life. Dr. Kotarba’s most recent book is Understanding Society through Popular Music (Routledge 2018). The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction awarded him the George Herbert Mead Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Dr. Kotarba's featured presentation for the Qualitatives is:

The Impact of Translational Science on the Culture of Medicine: An Ethnographic Take

This presentation describes the value of qualitative methods in exploring the development of translational biomedical science (TS), a scientific movement that aims to facilitate the efficient application of basic research to clinical service design and delivery. The setting for this research is the Institute for Translational Sciences (ITS), at the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston. The findings from this research can be conceptualized in four analytical stages. Stage one: the original mandate to ITS to evaluate the implementation of the Award. Stage two: true collaboration with the organizational psychologists and business management members of our team. Stage three: leadership training. As translational biomedical science becomes comfortably integrated at UTMB, Stage four provides the opportunity to examine general topics in the sociology of science. I conclude with a discussion of the implications of this research agenda for health research in Canada.