Joanna Kempner

Associate Professor of Sociology, Rutgers University-New Brunswick

About Joanna

Kempner studies science, medicine, and inequality, with a focus on the politics of pain and its treatment. Kempner's award-winning research gives voice to those who are too often silenced, and
addresses questions too often ignored: Whose pain matters? Why are there so few effective treatments for pain? What are the challenges of living a life in pain? Kempner is currently studying
the role that patient-led research has played in the so-called “psychedelic renaissance.”


In the News

Joanna Kempner quoted on who’s going to pay for a randomized controlled trial on oxygen if nobody’s going to make money off of it by Deborah D. Gordan, "Is “Experimental” Just Another Way for Your Insurer To Deny Coverage? Medical Experts Wonder, Too" No Patient Left Behind, June 7, 2021.
Joanna Kempner quoted on comparing clusterheads to the 1980s HIV activists who also boldly experimented with unapproved drugs by Katherine Ellison, "A New Treatment May Halt Cluster Headaches. But Some Say Psychedelic Drugs Are the Real Answer" The Washington Post, April 3, 2021.
Joanna Kempner quoted on gendered responses to migraine and women being three times more likely to suffer migraines and are often treated differently than men by Janet Steen, "Wrestling With the Ghosts In My Head" Longreads, February 2019.
"15 Percent of Americans Have Migraine Disease. Why Aren’t There Better Treatment Options?," Joanna Kempner, Interview with Stephanie Sy and Lorna Baldwin, PBS News Hour, February 26, 2020.
Joanna Kempner quoted on loads of people who have done drugs before and taking these drugs very much as medicine by Stacey Burling, "Can Anything – LSD Perhaps? – Help ‘Suicide Headaches?’" The Philadelphia Enquirer, November 18, 2016.
Joanna Kempner quoted on people worry when they cannot fulfil their end of the so-called sick role and these obligations being difficult to meet when there is no effective treatment by Anna Altman, "Life With Migraines: ‘It Feels Like a Creature Is Pushing Itself Through My Skull’" The Guardian, November 17, 2016.
Guest to discuss Jokes about migraines and constructed historically as a woman's disease on Thinking Aloud/BBC Radio 4, Joanna Kempner, February 2, 2015.


Not Tonight Migrane and the Politics of Gender and Health (The University of Chicago Press, 2014).

Asks why migraine--one of the most common, painful, and disabling diseases in the world—is largely ignored as a public health problem, despite the fact that researchers now understand migraine to be a neurobiological disease with potentially serious outcomes. Argues  about the enduring stigma that burdens migraine and those who have it and  casts new light on how cultural beliefs about gender and pain have been established.

"Towards a Socially-Just Neuroethics of Pain Disparities" in Pain Neuroethics and Bioethics, edited by Daniel Buchman and Karen Davis (Academic Press, 2018).

Argues for a neuroethics that engages in the biopolitics of pain, placing social justice, human rights and the public interest at the center of its analysis. Presents an argument for how neuroscience might avoid reifying racial and gender disparities or, better yet help reduce these disparities and enable more equitable care.

"Post‐Truth and the Production of Ignorance" Sociological Forum 35, no. 1 (2020): 234-240.

Argues that STS scholars best resist a “post-truth” society by insisting their analyses uncover relationships between knowledge, ignorance, and power.

"The Stigma of Migraine" (with William B. Young, Jung E. Park, and Iris X. Tian). Pos One (2013).

Investigates the extent to which stigma attaches to migraine, using epilepsy as a comparison. Finds adjusted stigma was similar for chronic migraine and epilepsy, which were greater than for episodic migraine. Stigma correlated most strongly with inability to work.

"Collective Self-Experimentation in Patient-Led Research: How Online Health Communities Foster Innovation" (with John Bailey). Science Direct 238 (2019).

Discusses how researchers increasingly value patient-led research for its ability to produce quick results from large samples. Finds that the collaborative context of online health communities transforms the practice and epistemological foundations of self-experimentation, which raises important questions how data collected in these studies ought to be understood and analyzed.

"Forbidden Knowledge: Public Controversy and the Production of Nonknowledge" (with John F. Merz and Charles L. Bosk). Sociological Focus (2011).

Presents a phenomenological examination of ‘‘forbidden knowledge’’—knowledge considered too sensitive, dangerous, or taboo to produce. Elaborates on forbidden knowledge, we argue, can be hard to identify, since its contents are continuously created in the everyday practices of working scientists.