Bridging Theory and Building Kin: Research at the Intersection of Race(ism), Family and Health

Thursday, March 4, 2021 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Distinguished Speaker Series Event

Speaker: Robin Nelson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Santa Clara University

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Anthropological investigations of the "human family" have explored all manner of topics ranging from gender practice to the evolution of modern human behavior. In this talk, she will explore how both theory production and a legacy of race mythmaking in biological anthropology have constrained interpretations of who constitutes kin across our species. Much of the public's understanding of "normal" human behavior is undergirded by spurious racial hierarchies, and these ideas influence what we construe to be normal familial configurations and behaviors.

Using her comparative study of the growth and development of children living in state-regulated residential childcare facilities as compared to those living with their natal kin as an empirical anchor, she will discuss how pseudo-economic models of kin investment and racist ideas about proper families have influenced our study of what children need to survive and thrive. Findings from this research reveal associations between childrearing practices, place of residence, and gender-specific variability in the health outcomes of Jamaican boys and girls. This research explores the many ways that children come to embody the psychosocial and physical environments provided by their caretakers, and the broad flexibility in how kin is conceived in different cultural contexts. 


Robin Nelson is a biological anthropologist who utilizes evolutionary theory in studies of human sociality and health outcomes. Her doctoral research examined variability in received investment from kin and social contacts and phenotypic expression of biological trait indicators of health status amongst Jamaican adults. Her more recent work explores the relationship between health outcomes and residential context for Jamaican children. This project focuses on the growth and development of children living in state-sponsored residential childcare facilities. She examines what happens to the social and physical health of children when the home, as it is articulated in West Indian communities, is not available to them. She is currently developing a project exploring the lives of Caribbean immigrants and their children in Toronto, Canada. With a focus on critical periods of growth and development, she investigates culturally salient forms of social and financial capital and the health of peoples from the Caribbean.

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