Dr Melanie Wenger

Mel has a DPhil in Anthropology and an MPhil in Medical Anthropology from the University of Oxford. She is a Postdoctoral Associate of Oxford’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Mel’s doctoral research focused on problematic food consumption in the United States. Her dissertation examined Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and Weight Watchers (WW), two organizations that use storytelling as a tool for changing eating behaviours. By examining how OA and WW operated for members when they first formed, how each has changed over time and how they operate now, findings from her research identify aspects of consumer culture that contribute to compulsive eating behaviours. These include frequent opportunities to consume highly palatable, calorie-laden foods, the erosion of ‘traditional’ food norms and the increasing importance of the physical body as the primary source of identity construction within countries such as the United States.

Through this research, Mel contextualizes notions of ‘addiction’ to food and bodily maintenance strategies alongside other ‘addictions’. She suggests that problems of ‘addiction’ have historically been situated either within specific ‘addictive’ commodities or within the  ‘diseased’ bodies of ‘addicts’. An ecological approach offers an alternative way for understanding ‘addiction’ as a ‘disease’, and Mel is currently working with Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, who is based at ISCA, to publish her preliminary findings regarding this.

In addition to ‘addiction’, human eating, nutrition, consumer identities, social cohesion, support groups and twelve-step recovery, Mel’s interests include: ecological approaches to infectious diseases, fertility and reproduction, stages of growth and development, obesity, disease prevention and social stratification. Mel has taught human ecology for Human Sciences undergraduates at Oxford. She has also taught ‘Evolution of the Human Ecosystem’ for the University of Georgia at Oxford Program and ‘Public Health and Biosocial Science’ for the Stanford University Programme in Oxford.

Prior to her graduate studies, Mel worked as an emergency room technician in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania and an emergency medical technician in Los Angeles, California. She has a BA from Boston University, where she majored in sociology (with classes in epidemiology and sociology of medicine) and minored in Spanish.

Publications

Wenger, M. (2015) Toward an ecology of addiction: Overeaters Anonymous and Weight Watchers in a culture of consumption, D.Phil. (Oxford: University of Oxford).

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