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Elisa (EJ) Sobo

Professor and Chair of Anthropology, San Diego State University
Chapter Member: San Diego SSN, California SSN
Areas of Expertise:

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About Elisa (EJ)

Sobo's research focuses on complementary and alternative approaches to (pediatric) health, the challenges such approaches pose to mainstream medicine, and the ways mainstream medicine work with as well as against them. Examples include cannabis for epilepsy and selective vaccination. Sobo also has researched barriers to care, healthcare quality improvement, healthcare consumerism, and implementation science. Overarching themes in Sobo's research include expertise, authoritative knowledge, stigma, trust, and bias.

A past employee of both Children's Hospital San Diego and the Veteran's Health Administration, Sobo has done consulting and evaluation work for, among other entities, the National Quality Forum, California's Healthy Families/Medi-Cal for Children (HF/MCC) program, California's Emergency Medical Services System, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (California Chapter Three). She also has done contract and consulting work for insurance and pharmaceutical corporations as well as for the Child Health Corporation of America.


Beyond the Vaccination Rift

In the News

"Routine, Back-to-School Vaccinations Double in Value During a Pandemic," Elisa (EJ) Sobo, Opinion, Times of San Diego, August 12, 2020.
Guest to discuss Beyond the Vaccination Rift on Sapiens: A Podcast for Everything Human, Elisa (EJ) Sobo, November 5, 2019.
"Worried About Measles? Bashing Alternative Schools Won’t Help," Elisa (EJ) Sobo, Times of San Diego, September 6, 2019.
Guest to discuss the reluctance of families to vaccinate their children on MPR News, Elisa (EJ) Sobo, April 26, 2019.
"Medical Anthropologist Explores 'Vaccine Hesitancy'," Elisa (EJ) Sobo, Interview with Audie Cornish, All Things Considered, NPR News, February 13, 2019.


"Parent Use of Cannabis for Intractable Pediatric Epilepsy: Everyday Empiricism and the Boundaries of Scientific Medicine" Social Science & Medicine 190 (2017): 190-198.

Explores how parents have begun experimenting with cannabis for their children (and navigating its stigma) with little or no help from authorized experts. Finds that most participants thought highly of mainstream medicine, and took an impressively empirical approach toward developing cannabis regimens for their children.

"What is Herd Immunity, and How Does It Relate to Pediatric Vaccination Uptake? US Parent Perspectives" Social Science & Medicine 165 (2016): 187-195.

Interviews and surveys U.S. parents with at least one child kindergarten age or younger. Finds that very few cared about or understood herd immunity, and that those who had heard of it saw it as not just unnecessary but unproven, illogical, unrealistic, and unreliable. Aims to understand how the public make use of scientific information in relation to parent role expectations and American individualism.

"Information Curation among Vaccine Cautious Parents: Web 2.0, Pinterest Thinking, and Pediatric Vaccination Choice" (with Arianna Huhn, Autumn Sannwald, and Lori Thurman). Medical Anthropology 35, no. 6 (2016): 529-546.

Surveys and interviews 53 U.S. parents with at least one child kindergarten age or younger regarding vaccine decision making, Finds that fully vaccinating parents mostly saw vaccination as routine while, in contrast, selective and non-vaccinating parents exhibited the type of self-informed engagement that the health care system recommends. Highlights that their positions on vaccination were not uniform or unilateral; rather, they were keyed to individual children's biologies, child size, environmental hazards, specific diseases, and discrete vaccines. 

"Anthropologists in the VA: A Generative Force" Annals of Anthropological Practice 37, no. 2 (2014).

Argues that anthropologists employed by the VA are responsible for some of the most important and actionable anthropologically informed health research today. Proposes that VA anthropology is in fact a generative force within anthropology as well as a vital practical pursuit.

"High Physical Activity Levels in a Waldorf School Reflect Alternative Developmental Understandings" Education and Health 31, no. 1 (2013).

Outlines the developmental framework underlying Waldorf education's approach and then describes how teachers put it to use in relation to the call for getting students moving.

"Selling Medical Travel to US Patient-Consumers: The Cultural Appeal of Website Marketing Messages" (with Elizabeth Herlihy and Mary Bicker). Anthropology & Medicine 18, no. 1 (2011): 119-136.

Discusses how more U.S.-based patients than ever are traveling abroad for medical or dental services. Highlights how themes linking healthcare consumerism to culturally specific identity ideals and self-creation/representations processes dominated. Emphasizes that themes relating to the demonstration of social position, savvy expression of good consumer judgment, and achievement of libertarian ideals figured highly.