Noelle Sullivan Assistant Professor of Instruction in Global Health and Anthropology

Research and Teaching Interests

Medical anthropology; global health; hospital ethnography; development; transnational governance and policy; institutional cultures and bureaucracy; infrastructure; materiality and representation; science and technology studies; voluntarism; Africa (especially eastern Africa), United States


Noelle Sullivan is a cultural and medical anthropologist focusing on the politics of global health in practice. Sullivan is concerned about what becomes ‘in vogue’ in global health.  Which issues or needs tend to be included/excluded or celebrated/marginalized? How global health concerns are taken up, and by whom? She conducts ethnographic fieldwork in northern Tanzania.

Sullivan’s current research expands across two projects.

Her current research explores international clinical volunteerism in the global South. Investigating Tanzania as a case study, she examines how hosting health professionals and foreign volunteers think about and engage with one another. She is interested in how hospitals and clinics market themselves as sites for ‘global health experiences’; and how volunteers, healthcare workers, and patients interact in order to achieve their desires or goals within these spaces of encounter. This research interrogates the spaces between good intentions, good business, and good works, since volunteers and Tanzanian health professionals have tremendously divergent ideas about what it means to ‘help’ or to ‘be helped.’ Aimed at addressing the rhetorics and omissions that attend international clinical volunteering, she focuses on how hopes and motivations of both Tanzanians and foreigners impact what clinical volunteering is, in practice. At present, the ethnographic research on this project is complete, and online research on volunteer marketing and experience-sharing is wrapping up. The results of this data are being developed into a book manuscript tentatively entitled Within the Gaps of Global Health: International Clinical Volunteering in Tanzania.

Her second project is a longitudinal ethnographic investigation of health institutions in transition in the wake of health sector reform and externally-funded global health interventions, primarily for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and reproductive health. It traces the ways that public health facilities in Tanzania have adopted, absorbed, and creatively engaged with the constraints and opportunities presented by donor-funded and government-prioritized initiatives over the past twenty years. With the Tanzanian government encouraging local institutions to establish public private partnerships, or PPPs, this research extends her original 11 month dissertation research to determine how institutions attempt to create PPPs and their own, institutionally-owned private businesses, in order to tackle pressing infrastructural and capacity shortages in the absence of government and donor support. This study of remaking of public health sectors through market logics and global health intervention provides important insights about the broader impacts of scarcity, narrow health targets, and even narrower budgets on opportunities and constraints that health sectors face in Tanzania, and beyond.

During 2016-2017, Sullivan was also a Public Voices Fellow of The Op-Ed Project. Her op-eds can be found below, or a comprehensive list of media publications and appearances can be found on her website:

Global Health Courses Taught

Recent Publications

  • Forthcoming (Preview available online) Sullivan, Noelle. International Clinical Volunteering in Tanzania: A Postcolonial Analysis of a Global Health Business. For special issue, “Mobility and (Dis)connectivity in the Global Health Enterprise,” Dominik Mattes and Hansjörg Dilger, guest editoris, Global Public Health. DOI: 10.1080/17441692.2017.1346695
  • 2017 Multiple Accountabilities: Development Cooperation, Transparency, and the Politics of Unknowing in Tanzania’s Health Sector. In special section “In Search of Results: Anthropological Interrogations of Evidence-Based Global Health.” Elanah Uretsky and Elsa Fan, special editors, Critical Public Health 17(2): 193-204. doi: 10.1080/09581596.2016.1264572
  • 2016 “Hosting Gazes: Clinical Volunteer Tourism and Hospital Hospitality in Tanzania.” In Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown (eds). Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa. James Currey.
  • 2016. “Beneath the Spin: Moral Complexity and Rhetorical Simplicity in ‘Global Health.'” In Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown (eds). Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa. With Claire Wendland and Susan Erikson.
  • Sullivan, Noelle. 2012. Enacting Spaces of Inequality: Placing Global/State Governance within a Tanzanian Hospital. For special issue, Hospital Heterotopias: Comparative Ethnographies of Biomedical Places. Alice Street and Simon Coleman, eds. Space and Culture 15(1):57-67. DOI: 10.1177/1206331211426057
  • Sullivan, Noelle. 2011. Mediating Abundance and Scarcity: Implementing an HIV/AIDS-Targeted Project within a Government Hospital in Tanzania. In special issue, Global AIDS Medicine in East African Health Institutions. Anita Hardon and Hansjörg Dilger, eds. Medical Anthropology 30(2):202-221. DOI: 10.1080/01459740.2011.552453
  • Sullivan, Noelle, Hansjörg Dilger, and David Garcia. 2010. ​Negotiating Professionalism, Economics, and Altruism: An Appeal for Ethnographic Approaches to African Medical Migration. African Diaspora 3(2):237-254. DOI: 10.1163/187254610X526931

Op-Eds & Media Apperances