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Anne Gerbensky-Kerber

My research interests are broadly situated at the intersections of health and organizational communication. In particular, my research has investigated how public health initiatives are influenced by or attempt to challenge dominant discourses about health. I use both interpretive and critical research approaches to address the questions that drive my work, which include: How do the contested meanings of ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ make possible certain forms of organizing? How do organizational practices give rise to disciplining forms of power related to health? What are the material consequences of health-related organizing practices? Where are sites for individuals and organizations to challenge prevailing discourses about health and influence social change?

I am currently engaging several of these questions through my dissertation project, a study of a school health advisory committee. Formed in response to federal legislation mandating school districts to develop local wellness policies, the committee brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to organize health-related initiatives for the school community. I am particularly interested in how the committee’s organizing practices are impacted by the materiality of its context in rural Appalachia, a historically marginalized and medically underserved region. To better understand how the committee functions, I am using multiple research approaches, including participant-observation, in-depth interviews and participatory sketching (an approach where participants are given drawing prompts and asked to describe the resulting images) with stakeholders, including members, students, school staff, and parents.

My work is largely informed by poststructural feminist, structuration, and narrative theories. These theories direct my attention to issues of structure/agency and symbolic/material tensions that circulate within discourses about health. For example, some of my recent projects have explored public discourses about Body Mass Index (BMI) report cards in schools, women’s activism to improve the quality of school cafeteria food, and policy discussions regarding legal protections for health providers’ conscience rights. Though much of my research interrogates sites of power, I am deeply committed to conducting research that empowers others to envision alternative possibilities and forms of organizing.

My excitement for learning and being in the classroom stems from my childhood, which was spent in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. I earned both a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication and a master's degree in Speech Communication from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I worked in public relations and corporate communications before returning to academia. Outside of school, you can typically find me honing my cooking skills, exploring the great outdoors with my bike or a pair of hiking shoes, cheering on my beloved Green Bay Packers, or just enjoying time and conversation with friends and family.