Starting in Fall 2011, Abigail Neely will be joining Geography as a new Assistant Professor. As an historical geographer trained in the nature-society tradition, Abby seeks to explain relationships between the material world (microbes, crops, and economies) and the way people understand that world (as mitigated through culture, knowledge, and experience).
Her work sits at the intersection of health geography and political-ecology. Her dissertation, provisionally titled "Reconfiguring Pholela: Local People and Government Bureaucrats from the 1930s to the 1980s," examines how interactions between residents and locally-based government bureaucrats had surprising implications for a rural, Zulu-speaking area of South Africa.
Her dissertation reveals that by paying attention to, for example, the addition of beetroot to gardens and cooking pots, the abandonment of long-standing healing rituals, and the failure of government anti-tuberculosis campaigns we can understand how local people and places shape the outcomes of large state policies. In Neely's research she uses a mix of qualitative methods like archival research, ethnography, participatory GIS, household surveys, interviews, focus groups, and oral history collection to document the evolution of local illness and ideas about health and healing through two distinct phases of government intervention, one in health in the 1940s and 1950s and one in community planning in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. She says she is absolutely thrilled to be joining the geography faculty at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities!