Dr. Elisa (EJ) Sobo
Dr. EJ Sobo is a sociocultural anthropologist specializing in health, illness, and medicine. Areas of expertise include childhood and child health, biomedical and other medical/health cultures, organizational and communication issues in healthcare, health-related stigma and identity, risk perception, and qualitative methods (including both ethnographic and rapid assessment methods). Dr. Sobo's most recent work concerns pediatric vaccination; parents’ use of cannabis-based therapies for children with intractable epilepsy/seizures; and conspiracy theories. She is presently working on 'CommuniVax' , a nationwide participatory action research initiative focused on community-based capacity building for an equitable and effective COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
A longstanding member of the editorial boards of Anthropology and Medicine, Medical Anthropology, and Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Dr. Sobo is a prolific author herself (a link to her CV is above). Her work has been reported on in media such as the New York Times, LA Times, and New Yorker, and she has been featured on NPR (see ‘Media,’ below).
Outside of SDSU, Dr. Sobo is Section Convener for the American Anthropological Association and Past President of the Society for Medical Anthropology. Dr. Sobo has in the past been co-chair of the Committee on Public Policy (CoPP) for the American Anthropological Association (AAA), and she has been on the board of the AAA's Anthropology of Childhood and Youth Interest Group (ACYIG). She has served on the Medical Committee of the Royal Anthropological Association in the UK.
Dr. Sobo earned her Ph.D. at UCSD (1990) and received post-doctoral training in medical anthropology at Case Western Reserve University (1991-1993). She has been a faculty member at the University of Durham in the UK, New Mexico State University, and the University of Arizona. She has worked in clinical trials as well as in hospital settings (i.e., for Children’s Hospital San Diego, and with the Veterans Health Administration). She also had done extensive consulting.
Dr. Sobo is keen to involve students in her research as a compliment to classroom teaching; her core courses include Medical Anthropology (508) and Anthropology of Childhood (537). Dr. Sobo also teaches The Dynamics of Biocultural Diversity (402), both online and for the Honors College.
Dr. Sobo with Tiyana Dorsey (May 2018). Dorsey was one of several undergraduates who worked on Sobo's Pediatric Cannabis (PedCan) Project thanks to funding from SDSU's Undergraduate Research Program.
Dr. Sobo and the Department of Anthropology’s (and CAL’s!) 2013 Outstanding Graduating Senior, Samuel Spevack, who has just completed a Ph.D. in cognitive science.
Dr. Sobo with the Department of Anthropology’s 2011 Outstanding Graduating Senior, Harrison White, who is now in law school.
Recent Media Coverage
- The Message of Measles. The New Yorker (2019).
- Jessica Biel steps into vaccine debate as other celebrities fear the ‘anti-vax’ label. LA Times (2019).
- Bastion of Anti-Vaccine Fervor. New York Times (2019).
- Measles cases are on the rise, but some Tampa Bay parents won’t vaccinate their kids. Tampa Bay Times (2019).
- God knows how I’m alive': how a teen defied his parents to get vaccinated. Guardian (2019).
- Vaccines, public health and personal choice. MPR (2019).
- Medical Anthropologist Explores 'Vaccine Hesitancy'. All Things Considered, NPR (February 13, 2019).
Public Media Commentaries/Op-Eds
- Routine, Back-to-School Vaccinations Double in Value During a Pandemic. Times of San Diego (August 12, 2020).
- Worried about measles? Bashing alternative schools won't help. Times of San Diego (Sept. 6, 2019).
- Here’s how we should talk about vaccines. Hint: No name-calling. Tampa Bay Times (Aug. 22, 2019)
- Playing with Conspiracy Theories. Anthropology News (July 31, 2019).
- Cannabis for Children with Intractable Epilepsy: Bypassing Big Pharma. HufingtonPost (October 30 2017).
- How will the Power of the Pussyhat Endure? Sapiens (January 30, 2017).
- Pink Hats, Red Caps: Mending a National Gap. HuffingtonPost (January 26, 2017).
- Language, Power, and Pot: Speaking of Cannabis as Medicine. Savage Minds (September 1, 2016).
- Beyond the vaccination rift: How does the human drive for social belonging affect parents’ vaccination decisions? Sapiens (February 26 2016).
- Standing up to Big Food's Organic End Run: Who Will, and Why? HuffingtonPost (September 21, 2012).
- School and Self Esteem, or: Thank You for Making those Socks! HuffingtonPost (August 7, 2012).
- What can Slow Schools Teach Us? San Diego Union Tribune (November 25, 2011).
Pandemic Response Work
Dr. Sobo is engaged in several concerted efforts to address the various crises and fissures revealed, exacerbated, and fomented by the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the disastrous mainstreaming of alt-right conspiracy theories and the marriage of Q-Anon adherents and anti-vaccine agitators in 'medical freedom' efforts (e.g., demonstrations aimed at reversing mask-wearing and other pandemic prevention efforts undertaken by the state), and the challenge of ensuring an equitable and effective COVID-19 vaccination rollout. To help meet that challenge, Sobo is collaborating in a nationwide action research coalition, CommuniVax, which is focused on community-based capacity building in in support of vaccination in historically underserved Black and Brown communities, which have endured the negative health and economic impacts of the pandemic at tragic and disproportionate rates.
- Sobo, EJ. (In press). Conspiracy theories in political-economic context: Lessons from parents with vaccine and other pharmaceutical concerns. Journal for Cultural Research
- Sobo, EJ, and Elżbieta Drążkiewicz. (In press.) “Rights, Responsibilities, And Revelations: Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories and the State.” In: Viral Loads: Coronavirus, Inequality and an Anthropology of the Future, edited by Nancy Burke, Ayo Wahlberg, and Lenore Manderson. University College London Press.
- Sobo, EJ. (In press.) “Vaccination: Against my Religion?” In: Bloomsbury Religion in North America, Editors: James Bielo, Willian S. Green, Anthony B. Pinn. Bloomsbury.
- Sobo, EJ ; Helen Lambert; Corliss D. Heath (2020). More Than a Teachable Moment: Black Lives Matter. Anthropology & Medicine. DOI: 10.1080/13648470.2020.1783054.
Pediatric Cannabis (PedCan) Project
The Pediatric Cannabis Project, which began well prior to legalization via Proposition 64, explores the experiences of parents using or interested in using cannabis (marijuana) to treat children with drug-refractory (pharmaceutically unresponsive) epilepsy. Given the plant’s overall illegality at the time of data collection, such parents were largely on their own when it came to learning about, procuring, dispensing, and monitoring treatments. This study asked: How do they do it? It also examined how parents’ lay or ‘citizen science’ efforts relate to formal healthcare practices and to authorized cannabis-and-epilepsy research (e.g., as conducted by pharmaceutical corporations). In addition to addressing key theoretical concerns this project aimed to generate practical suggestions for healthcare and social services workers that accurately reflect parents’ experiences and desires. Given the sea change in how our society views cannabis now, the next phase of the project focuses on iatrogenic or biomedically-induced ‘side effects’ as well as the healing vs. curative nature of cannabis medicine.
- Sobo, EJ. (In press). Conspiracy theories in political-economic context: Lessons from parents with vaccine and other pharmaceutical concerns. Journal for Cultural Research.
- Sobo, EJ. (In press). Cultural Conformity and Cannabis Care for the Iatrogenic and Idiosyncratic Complications of Intractable Pediatric Epilepsy. Anthropology & Medicine.
- Sobo, E. (In press.) “Each Child is Unique: The Responsible US Parent’s Take on Hospital Care Gone Wrong.” In The Work of Hospitals: Global Medicine, Local Cultures, Editors: William Olsen and Carolyn Sargent. Rutgers University Press.
- Sobo, EJ (2017). Parent use of cannabis for intractable pediatric epilepsy: Everyday empiricism and the boundaries of scientific medicine. Social Science and Medicine. Vol 190, pp. 190-198. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.08.003.
Pediatric Vaccination Selectivity
In anthropology, participants often take the lead in setting the research agenda. Dr. Sobo’s vaccination work grew out of the keen interest in vaccination expressed in 2012 by parents participating in the Healthy Child Development Project (see below). In 2014 a community study was begun. Major findings include lessons on the negative connotations of the phrase ‘herd immunity’ given our individualistic culture, and the fact that parents who selectively delay or forgo particular vaccinations for their children often know more about vaccination than those who simply accept vaccination, often blindly, as part of the clinical routine. Although Dr. Sobo was glad to wrap this work up several years ago, the recent resurgence of measles has led to her re-involvement on various levels.
- Sobo, EJ. (2016). Theorizing (Vaccine) Refusal: Through the Looking Glass. Cultural Anthropology: 31(3):342-350.
- Brunson, E., and EJ Sobo. (2017). Framing Childhood Vaccination in the USA: Getting Past Polarization in the Public Discourse. Human Organization 76(1):38-47. DOI: 10.17730/0018-72126.96.36.199
- Sobo, EJ. (2016) What is herd immunity, and how does it relate to pediatric vaccination uptake? US parent perspectives. Social Science and Medicine. 165(2016):187-195.
- Sobo, EJ; Huhn, A; Sannwald, A; Thurman, L. (2016) Information curation among vaccine cautious parents: Web 2.0, Pinterest thinking, and pediatric vaccination choice. Medical Anthropology. 35(6): 529-546.
- Sobo, EJ. (2015). Social Cultivation of Vaccine Refusal and Delay among Waldorf (Steiner) School Parents. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 29(3):381-399.
Salutogenic (Health Promoting) Schools
Dr. Sobo’s ethnographic study regarding how ethnomedical understandings about healthy child development affect educational strategies and standards, particularly in Waldorf (Steiner) school settings is in its final phase. The work, which bridges medical anthropology and the anthropology of education, explores how particular school systems produce particular health risks and outcomes as the ‘developmental pediatric philosophies’ that ground them are put into practice in the classroom, on the playground, and at home. As well, the research explores the relationship of particular versions of developmental pediatrics to the production of particular kinds of citizens.
- Sobo, EJ. (2015). Salutogenic Education and the Lifescape Paradigm: Movement and Whole Child Health in a Waldorf (Steiner) School. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 29(2):137–115.
- Sobo, EJ. (2014). Play’s relation to Health and Well Being in Preschool and Kindergarten: A Waldorf (Steiner) Education Perspective. International Journal of Play. 3(1)9-23.
- Sobo, EJ. (2013). High Physical Activity Levels in Waldorf/Steiner Education Reflect Alternative Developmental Understandings. Education and Health. 3(1):26-30.
Some Earlier Projects
Please see Dr. Sobo’s CV, accessible at the top of this page, for a list of related publications.
- Healthcare’s New Priorities
- Selling Medical Travel
- Implementation Science and Evidence-Based Care in the Veterans Administration (VA) Healthcare System
- Mantram Repetition and Childbirth Outcomes
- Optimizing healthcare for Children with Special Health Care Needs
- Qualitative Methods in Health Services Research
- Cultural Competence in Health Care
- Children’s Nutrition
- Living with HIV/AIDS
- HIV/AIDS prevention and risk perception/denial
- Jamaican Health and Healing