Helena Hansen

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NYU Medical Center ; Assistant Professor of Anthropology

MD, Ph.D. 2005 Yale; A.B. 1992 Harvard

Office Address:
Rufus D. Smith Hall
25 Waverly Place
Room 608
New York, NY 10003


Phone: (212) 998-8189

Curriculum Vitae

Areas of Research/Interest

medical anthropology, science studies, urban anthropology, critical psychiatry, addictions, pharmaceuticals, Latin American and African American spirituality and faith healing.


2014-2018 Robert Wood Johnson Investigator Award in Health Policy Research
2012-2017 National Institutes of Health K01 Research Scientist Development Award
2012-2015 Andrew Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar for the Comparative Study of Cultures
2013-2015 Kaiser Permanente Foundation Burche Minority Leadership Award

Selected Publications

2015 J Netherland and H Hansen: “White Opioids: Pharmaceutical Race and the War on Drugs that Wasn’t.” BioSocieties epub ahead of print doi:10.1057/biosoc.2015.46

2015 Hansen H: "Pharmaceutical Prosthesis and White Racial Rescue in the Prescription Opioid 'Epidemic'." Somatosphere http://somatosphere.net/2015/12/pharmaceutical-prosthesis-and-white-racial-rescue-in-the-prescription-opioid-epidemic.html

2014 Hansen H, Bourgois P, and E Drucker: “Pathologizing Poverty: New Forms of Disability, Diagnosis and Stigma under Welfare Reform.” Social Science and Medicine 103:126-33

2014 Metzl J and H Hansen: “Structural Competency: Theorizing a New Medical Engagement with Stigma and Inequality.” Social Science and Medicine 103:76-83

2013 Hansen H: “Weighing the Evidence: Risks and Benefits of Participatory Ethnography in Corporatized Clinical Care.” Social Science and Medicine 99:194-200

2013 Hansen H, Lindemann D, Holmes S “Ethnography of Health for Social Change: Impact on Public Perception and Policy.” Social Science and Medicine 99:116-8

2013 Martin E, Litchfield G, Mandefro M, Parvez F, Holmes S, Lindemann D, and H Hansen: “Enhancing the Public Impact of Ethnography.” Social Science and Medicine 99:205-8

2013 Hansen H, Donaldson Z, Bates L, Bearman P, Keely Cheslak-Postava K, Harper K, Holmes S, Link B, Lovasi G, Springer K, and J Teitler: “Integrating Biosocial Models into Revisions of the DSM: Need for Population Health Findings to Guide Psychiatric Research and Diagnosis.” Health Affairs 32(5):984-93

2012 Hansen H: “Pharmaceutical Evangelism and Spiritual Capital: Two Communities of Addicted Selves.” In Addiction Trajectories. Rakhiel and Garriott, Eds. Duke University Press

2012 Hansen H and Skinner M.: “From White Bullets to Black Markets and Greened Medicine: The Neuroeconomics and Neuroracial Politics of Opioid Pharmaceuticals.” Annals of Anthropological Practice 36(1):167-182

2012 Hansen H and S Roberts: “Two Tiers of Biomedicalization: Buprenorphine, Methadone and the Biopolitics of Addiction Stigma and Race.” Advances in Medical Sociology 14:79-102

2011 Hansen H: “The ‘New Masculinity’: Addiction Treatment as a Reconstruction of Gender in Puerto Rican Evangelist Street Ministries.” Social Science and Medicine 74(11):1721-8

2005 Hansen H: "Isla Evangelista-a Story of Church and State: Puerto Rico's Faith-Based Initiatives." Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 29(4):433-56.

2004 Hansen H: “Faith-Based Treatment for Addiction in Puerto Rico.” JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) 291(23):2882.

2003 Hansen H and N Groce: “Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Quarantine in Cuba.” JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) 290(21):2875.

2002 Hansen H, Lopez-Iftikhar M, and Alegria M: “Economy of Risk and Respect: Accounts of HIV Risk Taking among Puerto Rican Sex Workers.” Journal of Sex Research 39(4):292-301.

2001 Hansen H and Groce N: “From Quarantine to Condoms: Shifting Policies and Problems of HIV Control in Cuba.” Medical Anthropology 19:259-292.

Current News/Projects
Updated February 2016

Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Investigator Award: "How Cultures of Medication Are Made: Production of Race, Ethnicity and Class In Pharmaceutical Marketing."

This four year grant will support my study of the ways that pharmaceutical marketing campaigns enact race and ethnicity, chemically shaping U.S. populations as a result. The study involves participant observation and interviewing in marketing firms and drug development divisions, media content analysis of marketing materials, and geomapping using a national prescription database to track the impact of targeting marketing campaigns.

Symbioses: A BioSocial Network
This regional network is the outgrowth of our Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar: “A Post-Genomic Embrace of the Human? Toward the Social Sciences and Humanities of Non-Reductionist Life Sciences” for which I was  principal investigator, and for which Rayna Rapp, Emily Martin, Faye Ginsburg, Troy Duster, Ann Morning, Florencia Torche, and Patrick Sharkey were co-investigators. The two year seminar fostered interdisciplinary dialogue among social scientists, humanities scholars and life scientists to rethink nature/nurture in light of epigenetics, neuroplasticity, and the microbiome. We have now joined forces with Dorothy Roberts and Susan Lindee of the UPenn Program on Race, Science and Society to form a regional interdisciplinary network that has had two retreats and is planning future events. See biosocialnetwork.org

Documentary Film “Managing the Fix.”
I am now in post-production for my documentary on race, class, and addiction pharmaceuticals. The film follows three people in New York City as they go on and off of opioid medications (methadone and Suboxone) and navigate the fragmented public addiction treatment system, raising questions about the ontological and pragmatic implications of treating opiate addiction with long term opioid maintenance. Using interviews with addiction researchers, policymakers, pharmaceutical executives and historians, as well as archival footage, the film reconstructs the historical enmeshment of addiction pharmaceuticals with racial politics and the War on Drugs.

National Institute of Drug Abuse K Award
I am in the last year of a grant from NIDA to study the mainstreaming of addiction treatment into primary care using the addiction pharmaceutical Suboxone/buprenorphine. The project combines ethnography of prescribers and patients with social network analysis to examine the impact of a biological concept of addiction on stigma, social connection, and clinic organization.

Structural Competency
With Jonathan Metzl (Vanderbilt University), I have been promoting structural competency, which began as a critique of the current usage in medical education of “cultural competency”, too often focused on the beliefs and behaviors of individual patients, rather than the structural factors, including neighborhood poverty, housing, employment, and public policies, that drive inequalities in health. Structural competency asserts the need to train clinicians to see and act on health inequalities at levels above the individual doctor-patient encounter, in the form of collaborations with community based institutions, research collaborations with socio-cultural scholars, as well as advocacy in public policy.

To date, we have organized three successful national conferences on structural competency, created a website (structuralcompetency.org) to share relevant literature and news updates, and published a lead article in Social Science and Medicine. I am the primary editor of two forthcoming special issues on
structural competency in Academic Medicine and Bioethical Inquiry. The concept of structural competency has been taken up by the American Medical Students Association and SUNY Albany, which have launched national webinar series on structural competency.

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