Claire Laurier Decoteau
Director of Graduate Studies
Social Theory, Cultural Sociology, Sociology of Health and Medicine, Sociology of Knowledge, Sociology of the Body, Globalization, Gender/Sexuality, Race/Ethnicity, and Ethnography
Recent Graduate Courses:
Classical Theory (Soc 585)
Contemporary Theory (Soc 587)
Sociology of the Body (Soc 520)
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Claire Laurier Decoteau received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan (2008). Broadly, her research focuses on the social construction of health and disease, the politics of knowledge production, and peoples’ grounded experiences with healing and health care systems. Decoteau was awarded the 2009 American Sociological Association’s Dissertation Award. Her book, Ancestors and Antiretrovirals: The Biopolitics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2013, University of Chicago Press) argues that it is through HIV/AIDS policy that the South African government has attempted to balance the contradictory demands of postcolonial nation-building – forced to satisfy the requirements of neoliberal global capital and meet the needs of its most impoverished population. Drawing on 30 months of ethnographic, discursive and historical research, the book traces the politics of AIDS in South Africa from 1994 through 2010 analyzing: the political economy of the post-apartheid health system, the shifting symbolic struggles over the signification of HIV/AIDS, and the ways in which communities profoundly affected by the epidemic incorporate culturally hybrid subjectivities, informed by both indigenous and biomedical healing paradigms. This book was awarded an honorable mention for the Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award from the Section on Medical Sociology of the American Sociological Association.
Decoteau is currently engaged in two projects. The first is a book project focusing on epistemic contestations over definitions of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She has engaged in archival research on the US federal vaccine court proceedings on autism where the controversial link between childhood vaccinations and autism development was forced to stand trial. And she is in the middle of a two-year qualitative project, funded by the National Science Foundation, focusing on Somali refugee parents of children with autism in Minneapolis and Toronto. She is interested in understanding what makes a group of people forge a knowledge community around a particular theory of autism causation, and what role race, class and nationality might play in peoples’ understandings of autism, as well as their navigation of the existing health system. This research on the formation of epistemic communities and social movements on autism has profound implications for understanding health behavior and the interaction of laypeople with scientific expertise.
The second project focuses on women working in South Africa’s informal economy and explores the relationship between ‘transactional’ sexual practices and sex work in contemporary Johannesburg. Drawing on ethnographic and qualitative fieldwork, the project engages with theories of Pierre Bourdieu and Viviana Zelizer to make sense of the ways in which poor, urban women in contemporary South Africa use gift and commodity exchange as symbolic distinctions as they simultaneously recognize the increasing commodification of their sexuality.
As an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Decoteau teaches undergraduate and graduate sociological theory as well as courses in the sociology of health and medicine.