My introduction to Chad was through the US Peace Corps. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I taught courses in English, English Literature, and American Civics at the University of N'Djamena and at the National Teacher's Training Institute in the late 1980s, during the post civil-war period of reconstruction. After leaving the Peace Corps, I stayed in Chad to work on a project to develop a national health information system within the Chadian Ministry of Public Health. That project, which involved producing an inventory of health services infrastructure, personnel, equipment, and materials and an information system that could be used to update that inventory over time, provided a grounded introduction to public health and to the Chadian health care system. Those experiences were the basis for an interdisciplinary research career in which I have focused on development policy and development programming and their effects on Chadian society, cultural practices, and public health. For the last decade I have been tracing transformations – in food systems, the organization of household labor, and illness profiles, among other things – brought about by a major oil and pipeline project. When the pipeline project was launched in 2000, it was held up by the World Bank and a consortium of oil companies led by ExxonMobil as a ‘model' development project. Prior to starting research on the pipeline project, I studied discredited conditions such as infertility and HIV/AIDS, and how Chadian women in particular manage relationships and social life with these kinds of diagnoses. I also studied the diffusion of ritual practices like female genital cutting, their relationship to health, and changes in those practices over time. Other less academically oriented projects include an effort to collect videotaped oral histories from Chadian veterans of World War II and a number of on-going photography projects.


B.A. (1985) St. Olaf College; M.S. (1992) Health and Social Behavior, Harvard University, School of Public Health; ScD (1996) Population and International Health and Health and Social Behavior, Harvard University, School of Public Health


  • Associate Professor, Health, Behavior & Society, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, 2006-present
  • Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, 2007-present
  • Assistant Professor, International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, 2000-2005
  • Assistant Professor, University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center, Houston, TX, 1997-2000
  • Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center, Houston, TX, 1996-1997


Chad; social dimensions of health, illness, and healing; reproductive trouble in Central Africa; ritual practices and women's health

Project Summary

My project looks at the process of modernization under global norms or standards using Chad as a critical case. The context for the study is the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project, which was launched in 2000 as a ‘model' for development programming that is simultaneously market-promoting and concerned with social objectives. The project traces the social life of policy by analyzing emergent body practices as creative expressions of what it means to be modern. These bodily practices are also lenses through which to analyze the transformations occurring in Chadian society under the pipeline project and the regime of global standards.

Major Publications

  • "Experiments with ‘modernism': The allure and the dangers of genital surgeries in southern Chad." Medische Antropologie, 21(1), 93-106, 2009.
  • Leonard, L. and Ellen, J.M. (2008). "The story of my life": AIDS and ‘autobiographical occasions.' Qualitative Sociology, 31(1), 37-56, 2008.
  • "Where there is no state: Household strategies for the management of illness in Chad." Social Science and Medicine, 61, 229-243, 2005.
  • "Possible illnesses: Assessing the health impacts of the Chad Pipeline Project." Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 81, 427-433, 2003.