Sarah Bourke

Sarah Bourke

DPhil, Medical Anthropology

St John's College

Thesis: Making cultures count - The development of the Mayi Kuwayu National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing in Australia

Research: My research examines how human health is conceptualised, constructed and measured through large-scale quantitative surveys. There is a need for anthropological perspectives on this topic, as the way population health is measured drives social and political norms used by national and local-level health-care providers. A clear example of how this process occurs may be seen in the way the health of Indigenous peoples is often negatively politicised through the use of statistics by the government, health-care providers and the media. These statistics are used to homogenise and stereotype a highly diverse population, often ignoring the ways in which Indigenous people define themselves, their health and wellbeing, and the social and cultural factors which contribute to it.

In response, groups of people - both Indigenous and non-Indigenous - are working together to change the ways in which health statistics of Indigenous populations are collected. To investigate this phenomenon further, my thesis focuses on the development of the Mayi Kuwayu National Longitudinal Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing in Australia as a primary case study. The main aims of the Mayi Kuwayu Study were to design a survey which accurately reflected the social and cultural determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Australia and to build an evidence base for future health-care policies.

My research examines how concepts of Indigenous Australian health and its links to culture have been negotiated through the development of the survey. I also investigate what influence various social, political and historical factors have on its methodology, structure and implementation. Further, I am interested in the effect that Indigenous leadership and ownership of the study and its data has had on how the research has been conceptualised and conducted. An anthropological analysis of the Mayi Kuwayu Study will lead to a greater understanding of how qualitative knowledges are transformed into quantitative metrics, and vice versa. The thesis also emphases the ways in which Indigenous-led research is actively working to influence the social construction of Indigenous Australian health.

Research interests: Concepts of wellbeing, the social and cultural determinants of health, and world Indigenous issues.



List of site pages