Bordered and Borderless Materialities of COVID-19: A Narrative Exploration


  • Elisha Oliver Oklahoma State University-OKC



Reflexive Anthropology, Borderlands, Narrative, COVID-19,


The emergence of COVID-19 as a distinct biomedical bordered and borderless site for anthropological exploration has sparked change in the biomedical imagination. Recent work in bio-cultural anthropology has offered important insights regarding the materiality and multiplicities, the realities and generalities, and the possibilities and police-abilities of COVID-19 related social and political concerns (e.g., Briggs 2020; Manderson & Devine 2020). This paper, however, asks anthropologists to reflect on bordered and borderless bodies that would typically invite historical and medical analysis owing to their substantial explorations of prolonged intersectional placement and occupation – “the gendered and racialized body”. Can anthropology, specifically medical or biocultural anthropology, as a reflexive practice, shed new light on the materiality of the gendered and racialized body that have conventionally been left to historical and medical interpretation? How does the use a reflexive anthropology of bordered and borderless bodies challenge neoliberal logics of exploration, discussion, analysis, or claims-making associated with the body as a site? Reflexive and critical autoethnographic medical anthropology challenges anthropologists to de-naturalize the dichotomy between wellness and illness, and to instead think of biomedical assemblages as (re)configurations, (re)imaginations, and (re)workings of reflexive and radical processes. This paper originates from cross-disciplinary explorations of the borderlands of health and illness, including from anthropological traditions that have long engaged with the contemporary as part of their wider praxis, such as Indigenous, Latinx, Black Feminist, and Queer anthropologies. I combine ethnographic methods with illness as material culture analysis, whether that be of objects of space and place, gendered bodies, or cultural and medical landscapes to address the interrelatedness of biomedical materiality.

Author Biography

Elisha Oliver, Oklahoma State University-OKC

Elisha is a biocultural anthropologist and visual ethnographer. Her research explores the intersections of space and place, health, and gendered language in rural and urban communities with a focus on women’s biopsychosocial health. Currently, she is exploring the following: Graffiti as Political Resistance and Social Justice Activism, Archaeological Memoryscapes of All Black Towns in Northwest Oklahoma, and Infant Mortality in Urban African American Communities. Elisha is an advocate for anthropology as art with the purpose of reaching broad audiences outside academia. Elisha is an adjunct professor at OSUOKC, and OCCC. She is a STEM mentor for a national organization and is a founding partner at Generation Paideia Research and Consulting. Elisha earned her Ph.D in Biocultural Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma. Currently she splits her time between her research and writing home in rural Oklahoma and Dallas.




How to Cite

Oliver, E. (2022). Bordered and Borderless Materialities of COVID-19: A Narrative Exploration. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 18(2).