As ethnographers, we are familiar with origin stories, and The Asthma Files possesses its own. Mike Fortun and Kim Fortun first envisioned The Asthma Files while participating in an NIH-funded collaborative effort (led by health policy researcher Alexandra Shields, director of the Center for Genetics, Health Disparities and Vulnerable Populations at Harvard) to develop gene-environment interaction research responsive to health disparities, using asthma as a case study. A key event in this collaborative effort was a June 2006 workshop at Harvard brought together diverse researchers to consider possibilities and challenges. A key goal was to identify genetic study designs that incorporated sound environmental indicators.
In our previous posts, we’ve talked about why we chose to study asthma ethnographically, and how working with the platform helps us rethink the way we do ethnography. In this concluding post, we’ll talk more about how other researchers and citizens can become involved with The Asthma Files.
Participating in The Asthma Files can take on many forms. Whether a researcher, student, or member of the non-academic public, it is possible to take part in the research project. Since its onset, the project was designed to draw in many kinds of participants.
For example, one researcher recently uploaded a series of photographs and images from Compton, CA, to document the heavy historical presence of chemical and petroleum refineries around an area heavily populated historical disadvantaged groups.
Our repository is publicly accessible, and contains sections to archives such things as primary material, grey matter, and media files. We’ve provided step-by-step instructions on how to upload material to the site once you’ve created an account. This will allow your material to be easily available to anyone wishing to use it for research or informational purposes.
Editor’s Note: Global health research is not easy to coordinate. Publicly shared global health research is even more complex. That is why last month, Ethnography Matters was so excited to feature Erik Bigras‘s and Kim Fortun‘s innovative research methods for The Asthma Files, a project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where ethnographers gather and publicly share data about asthma. We believe their work signals to an important turn in policy oriented and public ethnography.
In Erik’s and Kim’s first post, Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (1 of 3), they focused on why The Asthma Files is necessary and introduced some of the technical logistics for creating a crowd-sourced qualitative data health gathering project.
In this month’s Ethnozine, Erik and Kim’s second post details the exciting process of choosing the best data sharing platform for their project, Plone. We learn about how the Tehran Asthma Files was born out of a close collaboration with the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine.
We look forward to their final post in this series that will discuss how other researchers from social scientists to epidemiologists and global health experts can participate in the research project and make use of the data.
Check out past posts from guest bloggers.
Choosing the Right Platform
Our ethnographic experiments are made possible partly because of the choice of online platform that The Asthma Files uses. Choosing the right platform is anything but simple. Each platform has its own capabilities, and these don’t necessarily align with the goals of the project. For The Asthma Files, we’ve so far been through three different platforms. We eventually settled on Plone because it was the one most suited to our needs.
As we said in our previous post, one of the goals of The Asthma Files is to rethink the everyday work of ethnography. In order words, we’re trying to understand how digital environments can transform the everyday, mundane, things that ethnographers do. As such, one of our primary audiences is ourselves as ethnographers and researchers. For this purposes, we needed an online platform that would be more than a delivery mechanism. We needed something that would act as a fully developed workspace where we could share, store, and create material.Read More… Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (2 of 3)
Editor’s Note: Ethnography can be used to inform important health and policy decisions. But there are few public case studies that illustrate the value of ethnography for this specific context. When we learned about The Asthma Files, a project where ethnographers were not only gathering data to better understand asthma but also openly sharing the data, we became very excited to feature their work.
The Asthma Files was first envisioned in 2006 by Kim and Mike Fortun, who wanted to address the contested space of asthma research. One of Kim’s graduate students, Erik Bigras, became involved in the project in 2009. Although Erik’s original dissertation topic was on game design, his research evolved to include the Asthma Files as one of his fieldsites.
In the first post of their three-part series, Erik and Kim tell us about how they conceptualized The Asthma Files, why asthma deserves research attention from ethnographers, and how research data is shared on an open content management system.
Erik Bigras is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at RPI. As a graduate student, his work focuses on the production of technical legibility and subject effects in the arenas of air climate science and environmental governance.
The Asthma Files
An anthropological project to understand how different communities and societies respond to complex problems.
An interdisciplinary project to advance understanding of asthma and environmental public health.Read More… Innovation in Asthma Research: Using Ethnography to Study a Global Health Problem (1 of 3)