MHDI FACULTY SPOTLIGHT
Roberto AbadieAssistant Professor
Date that you joined UNL: October 2014
Describe your research and how it contributes to alleviating or understanding health disparities?
I use ethnographic methods to understand how poverty, rurality, coloniality, and other structural and political forces shape the experiences of people who inject drugs. I have conducted research in rural Puerto Rico and also in Nebraska. While humans have been using mind-altering substances for millennia, the alienation brought by the capitalist mode of production, now globalized under a neoliberal regime and drug availability, has created unprecedented risks and drug-related harms. Yet, risks like HIV/HCV or overdose risks are not evenly distributed. More affluent or relatively well-off consumers can afford to use recreationally without engaging in problematic use. If they do, they can acquire good quality drugs or avoid drug sharing, avoiding or reducing drug-related risks. Poor drug users are more exposed to risks, including imprisonment in repressive contexts that support a war on drugs approach to what is a public health issue.
What inspired you to study health disparities and/or your field of research?
What inspired me to adopt a health disparities approach is the understanding that nobody acquires or uses drugs alone and that race, class, and gender, among other health disparities, shape the drug experience. Social stratification dramatically affects health, and this is particularly evident when we look at substance use. Studying a stigmatized and vulnerable group of people who use drugs produces valuable data about them, but it can also illuminate critical aspects of our social organization.
What advice would you give to incoming students (graduate or undergraduate) who are interested in studying health disparities?
I would advise them to take a broader look, considering how the social context produces and reproduces the health disparities that in turn, affect health outcomes. For example, homelessness, migration, poverty, and incarceration shape the experiences of rural people who inject drugs in Puerto Rico, exposing them to one of the highest rates of HIV/HCV and drug-related overdose deaths in the US. Yet, none of these issues could be understood without considering the colonial situation of the Island and the devastating effects of Coloniality.
What advice would you give to incoming faculty who are interested in health disparity research?
I would give them the same advice I gave students. Good or solid research should be the same, regardless of whether somebody is just starting as a student or in a more senior position.
What would your colleagues/students be surprised to learn about you?
Probably the fact that I wanted to be a fisherman as a kid, but my mom told me that it was not a “real profession.” And then, I became an anthropologist!