Alissa Jordan, PhD
2018-2021 Postdoctoral Fellow
Center for Experimental Ethnography
University of Pennsylvania
I am a multimodal cultural and medical anthropologist who received my Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Florida in 2016. My research focuses on questions of bodies, security, and creativity across field sites in rural Haiti and urban Ghana. I investigate these questions using methods of experimental writing, collaborative nonlinear filmmaking, sensory mapping, photography, museum exhibition, and digital experimentation. My current work deals with women’s experiences of birthing, and care as resistance, in the context of hospitals that imprison mothers, infants, and other patients for debt.
Learning from the ways others perceive the world—especially those stories, experiences, and adventures of people who explore the boundaries of human experience: my projects include working with Haitian women who fight to understand and heal their bodies, working with Vodou healers who grapple with infant death, collaboratively archiving the work of artists in Haiti and Ghana who use art to manage and critique social abjection, actively mobilizing with community leaders in North Haiti to fight against the widespread clinical imprisonment of mothers after childbirth to force repayment of surgical debt.
Critical. Collaborative. Experimental. I create and collaborate on ethnographies with interlocutors using words, photos, sound, digital media, and other media as it becomes available. I think film, photography, art, sound, and ethnographic writing are most productive when they are infused with participation from beginning to end. I have painted murals, made collaborative diagrams in community forums, created interactive virtual reality experiences with binaural soundscapes and full-body tracking, and use my expertise in these areas to infuse my work as an educator and scholar-activist.
Lòpital Pa Prizon Collaboration
An ongoing research-activist, oral history, and archival intervention into the problem of clinical imprisonment in global public health, especially in the context of NGO hospitals in Haiti. This includes the interactive website, www.birthresistance.com, envisioned as a multilingual platform for promoting discussion, sharing research, and amplifying patient stories and strategies. It features full conversations with experts on the practice including mothers, journalists, academics, and activists.
Hospital Detention Audio Documentary: Akouchman ak Rezistans | Birth & Resistance
Combining creative ethnographic storytelling, birth stories, and analytic reflection, these English and Haitian Creole audio documentaries understand the emergence of “hospital-prisons” and medical detention in Haiti and around the world. It focuses on two Haitian mothers—Likna and Naomi—and their experiences of birthing in Euro-American mission hospitals where they were then imprisoned for months. Locked inside with their infants, and provided neither food, water, or toiletries, these hospitals leveraged Naomi, Likna, and their companions as corporeal collateral to force families and communities to pay outstanding debts for obstetric surgeries.
What is hospital detention and what are its histories? What kind of silences are being kept around medical detention? How are these silences related to deeper histories of racial capitalism, medicine, and its particularly intense manipulations of black motherhood and black reproduction? And how have mothers like Likna and Naomi, healthcare workers like Guerlande, and other journalists from around the world been challenging it?
Experimental Glimpses: Jè Kle: (In a Vision)
In Sou Lapwen, on the outskirts of Arcahaie, Haiti, the term “travay” [work] is applied to diverse magical as well as mundane acts. This multimodal project uses film and photographic essay to explore travay as a nexus of social practices for transforming the political relations among humans, other beings, and landscapes in Haitian Vodou. The film layers together coinciding instances of travay, drawing from documentary film clips of everyday labors, songs for the lwa [invisible ancestral beings] of Haitian Vodou, ambient noise, rhythmic motions, and recreated dream imagery that illustrate how travay shapes lived bodies in relation to one another and a vibrating and energetic world. In lieu of generating meaning through explanatory narration, the co-directors (an anthropologist and a moto-taxi driver) bring together a variety of lived moments of travay in order to illustrate a concept that is at once sensual, interpretive, lived, and abstract.
Art + Sacred Philadelphia
Working with UPENN Graduate Students and curator-artist-choreographer Reggie Wilson to audio-visually document a series of performances that explored religion, movement, race and the body, with a focus on the African American religious experience and the specific context of Philadelphia’s historic sacred spaces. Curated by Reggie Wilson, “Grounds that Shout: and others merely shaking…” included performances by Philadelphia-based artists at religious sites along the Lombard Street corridor—host to a unique density of historic churches—highlighting both the broad narrative history of these spaces and their present-day status in a rapidly changing city. The project extends Wilson’s recent work with New York’s Danspace Project interrogating the history of St. Mark’s Church. Danspace’s Judy Hussie-Taylor served as a curatorial advisor to Wilson as he brought these concepts to Philadelphia. The series concluded with a week-long residency by Wilson and his Fist and Heel Performance Group at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, supported by the PEW Center for the Arts, Partners for Sacred Places, Center for Experimental Ethnography, and others.