May Profile – Dr. Emily Burns

May 2017’s PROFILE OF THE MONTH: Dr. Emily Burns 

Emily is a member of the Religion and Society Research Cluster, at Western Sydney University, and researches in the area of gender, reproduction, and medicalisation. She is particularly interested in counter-cultural birth practices and attitudes.

Emily’s work has focused on the practices of home birthing women in Australia, in particular the spiritual discourse and practice developed by some home birthing women. Emily has published research on rituals involving the placenta, and is the only Australian scholar to publish research on the Blessingway ceremony, a home-birth version of the more traditional baby shower. Emily has also written about the implications for research and knowledge production when Anthropologists are denied access to their chosen field-site.


ANSA speaks to… Dr. Emily Burns

1. What moment did you experience as the hardest, the most adventurous, and/or the most instructive during your research/fieldwork, and why? (you can pick one, or describe them all!) 

On one of my first visits to a field-site, for my doctoral research in a semi-rural town in NSW, I took all of my ethics-committee approved information sheets with me, which my host read as we sat in a dining room, sipping tea. After reading, she looked up and asked what a PhD was. This was a legitimate question, but one I was completely unprepared for, having spent so much time and energy legitimising my research for the university context. I had over-intellectualised this meeting, and the information sheets, and had not considered the ordinary, every-day questions people outside the university might ask of me and my proposed work. I nervously gave her an answer and mumbled and fumbled my way through a series of questions that, ordinarily, would have been easy to talk through with a friend outside the academy, but at the time, and in that context, were challenging. It taught me a very valuable lesson though, and I haven’t made the same mistake again.

2.  How would you describe Anthropology to someone you met at a party, and/or how do you use anthropology at a party or social event (think: meeting the in-laws for Christmas, a hose warming, a festival, etc.)

I try not to induce any glazed-over-eyes at parties when asked about my work, so to the question ‘what is Anthropology?’ I’d say something quick, like ‘the study of humans in their environment/s’. I’d probably also spend the trip home from that party agonising over this response, and questioning whether I should text the person asking with a more thoughtful one!

3. What book are you currently reading (academic or otherwise)?

I’m currently reading ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beaty, winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and so far it’s living up to its hype!

4. Who is your favourite/most inspiring Anthropologist, and why?

My favourite/most inspiring Anthropologist would have to be Robbie Davis-Floyd, who was the first Anthropologist I read on the topic of reproduction, and the first time I had thought critical about reproduction at all. Her work was the start of my own critical inquiry into birth, and I’ve felt moved, challenged, provoked and humbled by her work over the years.

5. What’s your favourite thing to do outside of uni/academia?

At the moment my favourite this to do outside of academic is carpentry. I’ve been learning to use various tools over the years, and have been building projects on my own for a year or two now. My latest project is a set of built-in book shelves, and they look great!