With her colleagues Sjaak van der Geest and Susan Whyte, Anita Hardon spearheaded the anthropological study of pharmaceuticals, culminating in an article in the Annual Review of Anthropology (1996) and the seminal book The Social Lives of Medicines (2002). These publications laid the groundwork for the subsequent anthropological study of pharmaceuticals, which until then had received scant attention.
Over the past decade, she has further been engaged in ambitious multi-level and multi-sited ethnographies on immunization, new sexual and reproductive technologies and AIDS medicines. Her research has generated important ethnographic insights on the appropriation of these technologies in diverse social-cultural settings, their efficacy in everyday life, the role of social movements in their design, and the dynamics of care and policy-making in their provision.
She makes communicating research findings to patient advocates, policy-makers, and public health researchers and practitioners a priority. This has led to changes in health policies, documentaries on the ‘lived effects’ of medicines, and favourable reviews of her work in high impact medical journals such as The Lancet (1988 and 2005) and Nature (2004). Each of her collaborative ethnographies involved several scientific grants and produced cutting-edge medical anthropological understandings, reflected in publications in top social science and public health journals (with a Hirsch index of 25, and over 2800 citations to her work).
Starting in 1987, her focus was on the ‘Global Diffusion of Modern Pharmaceuticals in Primary Health Care’. Building on her PhD research on self-medication in an urban slum in the Philippines, Hardon subsequently pursued comparative research in Uganda and Pakistan, highlighting how the effects of medicines were culturally re-interpreted and how self-care using modern pharmaceuticals was pervasive among the world’s poor.
From 1992, she developed and implemented a multi-country program on ‘Gender, Reproductive Health and Population Policies’, conducted in ten countries around Europe, Africa, Asia and South-America, and funded by the EU Fifth Framework Programme and the Dutch ministry for Foreign Affairs.
In two articles in Social Science and Medicine (1992 and 2006) and in several books, she describes how women’s health advocates and consumers have influenced product design. Whereas she aligned herself with the poor who lacked access to decent health care, she engaged in reflexive dialogue with both the users and designers of technologies, contributing to the creation of institutional mechanisms through which users could exert more influence on design processes.
When large-scale AIDS medicines programs were established in 2004, she developed the ‘AIDS Medicines in Resource Poor Settings’ research program, engaging 12 PhD students in Asia and Africa and 2 post- docs. The early results were presented in a seminal 2007 article in AIDS Care, which revealed that transportation costs and waiting times were key barriers to access for the poor in Africa.
The program generated new insights on how social forms travel with technologies to diverse settings, changing care arrangements and in situ and how social and cultural factors influence the (appropriate use) of AIDS medicines.
The findings were published in four agenda-setting special issues:
In 2012 she was awarded an ERC advanced grant for her current multi-sited ‘Chemical Youth’ project. This comparative ethnography aims to understand what chemical and pharmaceutical substances, and not only illicit narcotics, ‘do’ for youths. How are chemicals a part of their everyday lives? What role do they play in calming their fears or in achieving their dreams and aspirations? How can we understand the ways in which chemicals affect their bodies and minds?
To answer these questions she draws on her past work on the social lives of pharmaceuticals, and combines research repertoires from various disciplines - most notably medical anthropology, science and technology studies and youth studies. The social aim is to learn how, beyond policing and regulating transgressions, it will be possible to set up programs and interactive websites that support youth.
Over the course of these research programs, she has provided intensive guidance to young researchers, engaging them in the joint writing of books and articles. She has organized PhD workshops with international colleagues and has supervised over 19 PhD students to successful completion. Many of Hardon’s former PhD students now have prominent positions in academic institutions. Her work has further had an impact on the field of global health through the development of innovative research frameworks and methodologies. Applied Health Research: Anthropology of Health and Health Care (2001) is now used in numerous teaching centres, and the Manual How to investigate the use of drug use by consumers (WHO 2004), has been used in over 35 countries worldwide.
The social impact of her studies has been leveraged through her role as technical advisor for the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and health-related non-governmental organizations, while a popular article written for Health Action International led to changes in how the Global Alliance for Vaccination implemented its programs. The article ‘Hunger, waiting time and transport costs: Time to confront challenges to ART adherence in Africa’ that Anita Hardon and co-authors (many of whom front-line health workers in Africa) wrote in 2007 became one of the three most cited AIDS Care articles from 2003-2012.
Under her leadership, the Health, Care and the Body research program at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) has become known as the European leader in medical anthropology and global health. The program has been awarded a 8 prestigious grants of the European Research Council (totalling 18 million Euro’s external funding) in the past five years. The University of Amsterdam has recognized Global Health as one of its ten priority research areas.
Between 2001 and 2014 Anita Hardon has been the Scientific Director of the AISSR, where she built on the institute’s traditions of scholarship to generate new internationally recognized cross-disciplinary synergies. The AISSR employs 200 researchers and was recognized in 2011 and 2013 by Times Higher Education as the leading centre for the social sciences in continental Europe.
Trained as a medical anthropologist and biologist, Anita Hardon has been engaged in ambitious multi-level, multi-sited and often interdisciplinary studies on immunization, new reproductive technologies, and AIDS medicines that have generated important ethnographic insights on the appropriation of these technologies in diverse social-cultural settings, their efficacy in everyday life, the role of social movements in their design, and the dynamics of care and policy-making in their provision.
The latest multi-sited ethnography, ‘ChemicalYouth’, was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant. It aimed to understand what chemical and pharmaceutical substances, and not only illicit narcotics, ‘do’ for youths, using concepts and theories from medical anthropology, science and technology studies and youth studies. The generous ERC funding not only resulted in theoretical advancements (see Hardon and Sanabria 2017), it also enabled experimentation with new ways of doing ethnography, collaboratelyv with young people and by augmenting the tool kit of anthropologists with methods from digital humanities and design.
A full CV including publications can be downloaded to the right of this text.