University of Hawai'i at Manoa Department of Anthropology

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Heather Young Leslie
Assistant Professor

Background: I have come to the University of Hawai'i from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where I was an assistant professor and Associate Director for Health Research at the Canadian Circumpolar Institute.  I specialize in medical and feminist anthropology, and have done research in Polynesia and Canada. 

Prior to teaching at U of A, I taught anthropology and women's studies at the University of Northern B.C. Prior to that I taught at the Wilp Wilxo'oskwhl Nisga'a [Nisga'a House of Learning] and at the Ontario Midwifery Education Programme. I was also Interim Coordinator of the Northern Secretariat of the BC Centre of Excellence for Women's Health.

My applied work with the Midwifery Task Force in both Ontario and B.C., and my teaching experience in the Ontario Midwifery Education Programme led to an appointment  in 1997 to executive of the first Board of the College of Midwives of  B.C., which started registering midwives in 1998.

Interests: I am fascinated by how a society's systems for treating disease and suffering, and for producing professional healers and helpers, is predicated by and acts to represent and replicate patterned aspects of culture, power and social structure. Thus I am very interested in the intersection between western biomedicine and modernity.

My current research in Polynesia focusses on the first indigenous Pacific islanders to study Western medicine, and the imbrications of the colonial agenda, power, Rousseauean romanticism, pragmatism, sexism, racism and modernity that characterized Pacific islanders' first exposure to, and interest in, medical practices. At present, my project is focussed on Tongans who have studied medicine. The research is ethnographic but includes archival research in Fiji and the United Kingdom. Of particular interest are records pertaining to the Suva Medical School and the Central Medical School, the institutions which evolved into the Fiji School of Medicine, where many Tongans received medical training.

Past research in the Kingdom of Tonga  examined the intersections of  women's work, cultural constructions of health and mothers' child care practices. Surprisingly, a key aspect in the everyday construction of health is the production and gifting of  women's 'cloth' wealth. 

In Canada, I have conducted research on perceptions of risk among sport fishers for Health Canada.  I have also been an active proponent in the emergence of  the newest primary health care profession, midwifery

Areas of  interest: Medical and feminist anthropology, culture and health,medicine and modernity; health professionals; Tonga, Oceania.

Selected Writings:

n.d. Pushing Children UP: Maternal Obligation, Modernity and Medicine in the Tongan Ethnoscape. Forthcoming in Pacific Island Societies in a Global World, edited by Victoria Lockwood, Englewood cliffs, Prentice-Hall Publishers.

2001 Understanding Differences and Similarities. In Ethnographic Essays in Cultural Anthropology; A Problem Based Approach. Morrison, R. Bruce and C. Roderick Wilson (eds). Itasca, F.E. Peacock Publishers (Co-authored).

2000 Fosterage in Oceania. Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women's Studies. Cheris Kramarae and Dale Spender, Eds. New York N.Y. Routledge.  (Expected December 2000).

1999 Considering the Impact of Gender in Tongan Whaling: A Framework for Evaluation and Suggestions for Maximizing Benefits to Women. Issues in Indigenous Whaling: Tonga, World Council of Whalers. M. Freeman, Editor.

1999 Inventing Health: Tradition, Textiles and Maternal Obligation in the Kingdom of Tonga. Unpublished dissertation, 407 pages, York University.

1998 The Anthropologist, The Mother And The Cross-cultured Child: Lessons in The Relativity Of Cultural Relativity.  In Families in the Field: Constructing Ethnographic Identities.  Juliana Flinn, Leslie Marshall, and Jocelyn Armstrong Eds., Honolulu, University of Hawai'i Press.

1996 Flexibility and Preparation: Keys to Good Fieldwork. In Instead of Full Stops. Susan Sellers, Ed. London U.K., The Women's Press.(Peer Reviewed)


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