Spotlight on… Kirsten Bell


Kirsten before her first solo skydive in 1996

Position: Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Roehampton

Bio: Born in North Queensland in Australia, Kirsten completed her PhD in social anthropology at James Cook University in 2000 with a dissertation on Chondogyo, a new religious movement in South Korea. She worked in anthropology departments at the University of Northern Colorado in the USA, Macquarie University in Australia and the University of British Columbia in Canada prior to taking up her position at Roehampton in 2018.

Research interests: Although Kirsten’s early work focused on new religion in South Korea, since 2006 her research has focused primarily on the anthropology of public health and prevention – particularly tobacco use and efforts to eradicate it (especially tobacco ‘denormalization’ strategies) and how cancer survivorship is  experienced and intervened into. However, more recently she has become interested in procedural research ethics and scholarly publishing and the processes that shape academic knowledge production more broadly.

Most significant work: In recent years, tobacco control advocates have increasingly turned their attention to cigarette packets based on the assumption that increasing health warning labels and reducing or removing tobacco company branding will increase the number of people who stop smoking or never start. However, Kirsten’s comparative study of how smokers engage with their cigarette packets in Canada, the UK, the USA and Australia suggests that the visual influence of packaging may be less significant than legislators think as the relations that smokers form with their packet are based on touch as well as – and potentially more than – sight. Taken seriously, these findings suggest other potential directions in cigarette packaging legislation than those focusing exclusively on sight. You can read a blog post with Kirsten’s reflections on cigarette packets here.

Latest project: Visual cues like graphic warning labels and generic packaging are increasingly seen as important weapons against unhealthy forms of consumption – especially in the areas of tobacco control, and, increasingly, alcohol reduction and obesity prevention. However, public health interventions tend to ignore the physical qualities of packaging in favour of its visual attributes as a marketing tool, which may limit the effectiveness of such legislation based on misplaced assumptions about how people engage with it. Funded by a Wellcome Trust grant, Kirsten’s newest project aims to map how packaging has been conceptualised within the public health and social science literature and to develop new methodological approaches and original empirical data on the relationship between drinking patterns and the containerisation of alcohol.

Teaching: Kirsten convenes the anthropology module: ‘Being Human’ and teaches extensively into ‘Key Skills in Anthropology and Beyond’ and ‘HIV/AIDS and Global Health’.

Did you know…?

  • that Kirsten can write backwards (see below);
  • that Kirsten has level 1 certification in skydiving (long expired, admittedly);
  • that Kirsten comes from a family of geologists – her father, sister, brother, husband and brother-in-law are all geos, which makes for some very boring family conversations.

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