Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Photographer: Lianne Claessens

Ms L.M.A. (Lisanne) Claessens

  • Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
    Programme group: Anthropology of Health, Care and the Body
  • Visiting address
    REC BC
    Nieuwe Achtergracht 166  Room number: C5.02
  • Postal address:
    Postbus  15509
    1001 NA  Amsterdam


Lisanne (1989) graduated cum laude from the master's program in cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, with a thesis on young drug users and sex workers learning responsibility in a New York City harm reduction clinic. Her current doctoral research is part of the Chemical Youth research group and focuses on young people in Amsterdam, where she follows their trajectory towards 'super health'. Her research interests span healthy lifestyles in urban settings, notions of drug efficacy, mixing and blending, experience-based evidence, natural/synthetic dichotomies, and marketing health.


The Chemical Youth research group draws on medical anthropology, studies of science and technology and contemporary youth culture to study the lived effects of chemicals, which are a combination of their pharmaceutical properties, the beliefs and expectations surrounding their use, and practical experimentation with specific techniques. Our ethnographic fieldwork, based on participant observation and long-term immersion in the field, takes place in the Netherlands, France, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The ChemicalYouth project is based at the University of Amsterdam and is funded by the European Research Council.


This project aims to understand young people’s aspirations and practices towards ‘super health’ in the Dutch capital city of Amsterdam, where organic, low-sugar, low-carb diets and the fit lifestyle have become the rage. The ubiquitous gyms, yoga studios, organic and health stores, juice bars and super foods lining the city’s streets invite urban youths to rethink their concepts of health and to question their daily routines.

Through long term participant observation, Lisanne explores how youths experiment with vitamins and supplements, monitor and measure their bodies, and experience the evasive boundaries of the body’s inside, surface and surroundings. The intense, disruptive changes to lifestyle associated with their quest for super health mirror how youths navigate urban social life, aiming to enhance their social status among peers while coping with the pressures and anxieties of everyday life.

One of the field sites is a health store, a place where young bodies enter into intimate relationships with a commercialized health movement. Young people, it seems, understand the efficacy of vitamins and supplements within this dualism, influenced by both biomedical discourse and discourses of experience and belief, revealing tensions between biomedical notions of the body and young people’s experimental, creative and social understandings of what their bodies are capable of.

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