chapter  7
17 Pages

Move Like Honey

Activating Fieldnotes for Building Cultural Health Capital
WithLaShaune Johnson

How do critical social scientists manage the experience of liminality when participating in health disparities work? As a sociologist who studies Black breast cancer experiences, I have been invited to public health conversations to support African American breast cancer disparities efforts. However, after I am consulted about the “cultural responsiveness” of a public health plan, I am usually pushed into a participant observation role, with the health practitioners leading the work. Throughout planning, execution, and evaluation processes, I take fieldnotes about the ways that underserved populations labor through a health care system that creates and supports differential outcomes. Sanitized summaries of my observations sometimes appear in the discussion section of a health report, but the very thing that makes me a good cultural advisor—I am a cancer survivor and a woman of color-seems to make it easy to dismiss my more critical observations. I am reminded that my life experience does not trump the public health canon. My fieldnotes become battle plans. Inspired by Basaglia’s ideas of the negative worker and Beyoncé’s (2016) song “Formation,” I use fieldnotes as a guide to help me co-create community-based breast cancer efforts that engage Black women in conversations about structural violence.