Ellen Block received her PhD in Anthropology and Social Work from the University of Michigan in 2012. She received her BA in Anthropology from University of Notre Dame. She is joining us from Brown University in Providence, RI, where she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Population Studies and Training Center.
Her ongoing research examines how the AIDS pandemic has affected orphan care and the structure and makeup of the family in rural Lesotho. From an ethnographic perspective, she explores how everyday strategies of household caregiving practices have led to wider demographic shifts in the wake of the AIDS pandemic. She has noted a shift toward care by maternal grandmothers, despite the idealized importance of patrilineal social organization. Block's work emphasizes the deeply biocultural nature of HIV/AIDS. While HIV may be contracted through casual sexual relationships, it spreads primarily through family and sexual lines and impacts interpersonal relationships in ways that other deadly infectious diseases do not. Her work showcases Basotho's experiences of AIDS that emerge in the intimate spaces of family life, while focusing on the intersections of biomedicine and culture. Block's most recent fieldwork investigates a potentially devastating emergent demographic shift. Grandmothers, who currently carry the majority of the burden of care for AIDS orphans, are part of the last generation of virtually HIV-free southern Africans. As this generation of grandparents passes away, her research investigates the impact this demographic shift will have on everyday practices of orphan care.