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Elizabeth F.S. Roberts

Elizabeth F.S. Roberts

University of Michigan
Fellow, 2020-21 Study #32

For her CASBS year, Elizabeth F.S. Roberts will work on two interrelated projects. First, she will finish her book manuscript, Vital Dependencies: Surviving Capitalism in a Drug War Age, based on her ethnographic engagement with the working-class participants from the environmental exposure study.  By celebrating their consumption of toxic and intoxicating substances as a means to foster dependencies on others, these residents critique both contemporary addiction models that revile dependency and contemporary exposure models that assume the possibility of maintaining discrete bodily boundaries.  Roberts makes the argument that these dependencies are crucial for surviving the ravages of NAFTA and the Drug War.  Second, she will begin analysis of her team-gathered bioethnographic water project data collected in the households of Mexico City residents, with a focus on the intertwined effects of water intermittency, inequality, gender and political participation on health.

Roberts is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. She is a medical anthropologist who collaborates with environmental health researchers conducting a longitudinal birth cohort study of 1,000 working class Mexico City families, investigating the intergenerational effects of toxic chemical exposure over the life course. Her goal in this collaboration has been to develop a “bioethnographic” method for combining ethnographic and bio-marker data about these families to better understand environmental health outcomes in more complex ways than either method could manage on its own.

For more information about her work, please visit