Susan Brownell, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, University of Missouri-St. Louis
I'm an internationally renowned sport anthropologist and expert on China and the Olympic Games, and have conducted fieldwork in China since 1985. I am interested in how hosting Olympic Games has facilitated China's rise as a world power.
I have broader interests in mega-events (including world's fairs), nationalism, gender, medical antrhopology, and ritual.
I'm a former nationally-ranked U.S. track & field athlete (in the heptathlon) and national collegiate champion in China.
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Research & Writing
I first went to China as a language student in 1985, when I joined the track team at Peking University. I ended up being chosen to represent Beijing City in the 1986 National College Games, where I won the gold medal in the heptathlon and two silver medals in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays. I returned in 1987-88 for a year of research while based at the Beijing Sport University (BSU), which has remained my main affiliation ever since. This was the foundation for my dissertation on Chinese sports and my first book, Training the Body for China. I return regularly to China to conduct fieldwork and interviews, and lived in Beijing in 2007-2008 to research the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games as a Fulbright Senior Researcher affiliated with the Olympic Studies Centre at BSU. I also conducted four months of fieldwork on the World Expo Shanghai 2010 while affiliated with the Cultural Anthropology Studies Center at Fudan University.
I am also an expert on the anthropology and history of the Olympic Games. I have attended six Olympic Games (Los Angeles 1984, Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, Rio 2016, and PyeongChang 2018). I have conducted interviews and archival research at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, the International Olympic Academy in Greece, the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis (researching the 1904 St. Louis world's fair and Olympics), and more.
I have also done research on the anthropology of the body, health, & medicine. This goes back in time to the comparative history of classical China and Greece in antiquity, and up to the contemporary tensions in China between modern sport and traditional forms of exercise (as expressed in wushu, qigong, yangsheng, falun gong, and more). I have studied changing ideals of the body and beauty in China in the reform era, including research on the history and practice of cosmetic surgery, with a focus on "double eyelid surgery." My recent project looks at the responses to the Covid-19 pandemic at the Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021) and Beijing 2022 Olympics, with a focus on the role that Olympic Games play in strengthening the global disease surveillance system.
I am committed to the public face of anthropology and my research aims to amplify its public voice. My research attracts media interest (see my Media page for links to media coverage), and I have written commentaries and blogs for online journals and popular publications (see my Research & Writing page).