Ellen Block, Postdoctoral Research Associate, 2012
"My academic aspirations are fueled by my love of ethnographic fieldwork. It is fascinating, engaging, challenging and affords a view into the inner lives of people that helps increase our understanding of cultural diversity as well as global inequality."
- Ellen Block
Ellen Block received her PhD in Anthropology and Social Work from the University of Michigan in 2012. As a W. K. Kellogg Family Fellow in Children and Families, she conducted fieldwork in Lesotho for her dissertation entitled “Infected Kin: AIDS, Orphan Care, and the Basotho Family.” Her research examines the impact of HIV/AIDS on orphan care and the family in Lesotho, southern Africa.
Currently focusing on her book project that is based on her dissertation, Ellen is examining how the AIDS pandemic has affected orphan care and the structure and makeup of the family in rural Lesotho. From an ethnographic perspective, she explores the demographic changes associated with widespread illness and a drastic rise in the orphan population, and the role that culture plays in these changes. This ethnographic approach illuminates where culture, illness and care intersect to explain how individual and community-level strategies during a health crisis have led to a demographic shift towards matrilocality.
Additionally, Ellen is preparing to return to Lesotho this spring to explore a demographic shift that is on the near horizon. Grandmothers, who currently carry the majority of the burden of care for AIDS orphans, are part of the last generation of virtually HIV-free southern Africans. She intends to investigate what will happen when these elderly caregivers, who are currently occupying the majority of the burden of care for orphans, pass away. Who will care for the children left behind and how will this be reflected in household and family changes?
Block is working on several journal articles and a book manuscript and is in the preliminary stages of designing a new research project exploring the impact of the passing of a generation of mostly HIV-negative elderly caregivers on orphan care in southern Africa.