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Noelle Sullivan

Associate Director; Professor of Instruction, Global Health Studies

PhD University of Florida 2011

Research and Teaching Interests

Global health, health sector reform, development, transnational governance and policy, international volunteerism, institutional culture and bureaucracy, gender and sexuality, medical waste, eastern Africa and United States


Noelle Sullivan is a medical and sociocultural anthropologist who has conducted ethnographic research on Tanzania’s health sector since 2005. Sullivan has served as core faculty for Northwestern’s Program of Global Health Studies since 2012.

In 2018, Sullivan was named Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Lecturer, Northwestern University’s highest honor for teaching stream faculty. She was a Faculty Fellow at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities (2019-2020), the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching (2018-2019), and Northwestern’s Public Voices Fellowship with the Op-Ed Project (2016-2017), and Curricular Fellowship Program of the Sexualities Project at Northwestern (2018-2021).

Sullivan’s book in progress, The Business of Good Intentions: Reframing the Global Health Volunteering Debate, examines real-world effects and implications of international voluntourism in under-resourced health sectors. The book is based on empirical research in Tanzania since 2008, including over 1600 hours of observations of international volunteer-Tanzanian interactions in health facilities. The project explores how the for-profit voluntourism industry maps onto under-resourced health facilities in Tanzania and elsewhere, and to what effect for international volunteers and hosting health professionals, patients, and institutions. The Business of Good Intentions puts aside polarizing debates about voluntourism in health care settings and instead focuses on systematic drivers and wider implications of global health volunteering. In doing so, the book considers how history and economics collude in the for-profit voluntourism industry to seemingly render moral a variety of unmarked and problematic tropes that inform popular ideas about doing good elsewhere. 

Sullivan’s previous research was a longitudinal ethnographic investigation of Tanzanian health institutions in the wake of health sector reform and externally-funded global health interventions, primarily for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and reproductive health. It traces how public health facilities in Tanzania adopted, absorbed, and creatively engaged with constraints and opportunities presented by donor-funded and government-prioritized initiatives from 2005-2017. 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 under-resourced health sectors in Tanzania, and beyond.

In addition, Sullivan has written and is currently seeking an agent for a popular press book entitled Stretch: A Sister’s Memoir in the Aftermath of Murder. The book follows Sullivan’s loving but complicated relationship with her brother, Adam Colquhoun, whom most people knew as “Stretch,” from childhood until he was tragically murdered in a random act of gun violence. That event launched Sullivan on a journey through Canada’s criminal justice system, during which she questioned how Stretch’s past struggles could help her come to terms with the man who murdered him. Following Sullivan’s story in the aftermath of her brother’s murder, Stretch asks us to reimagine possibilities for love, empathy, and ultimately, justice and redemption. 


Global Health Courses Taught

  • Introduction to International Public Health
  • Volunteerism and the Ethics of Help
  • Global Health from Policy to Practice
  • Biomedicine and Culture
  • Qualitative Research Methods in Global Health
  • Beyond Porn: Sexuality, Health and Pleasure (forthcoming Winter 2022)
  • Medical Heroes and Villains (Fall 2021)
  • HIV/AIDS in Africa
  • Global Health and Indigenous Medicine

Refereed Journal Articles

  • 2020: “Like a Real Hospital”: Imagining Hospital Futures through Homegrown Public Private Partnerships in Tanzania. For special issue “Beyond Realism: Anthropology of Africa’s Medical Dreams.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 90(1): 209-228. Noémi Tousignant & P. Wenzel Geissler, guest editors. doi: 10.1017/S0001972019001013
  • 2020: (with Meredith Marten) Hospital Side Hustles: Funding Conundrums and Perverse Incentives in Tanzania’s Publicly-funded Health Sector. Social Science and Medicine 244, 112662. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.112662
  • 2018: 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 editors, Global Public Health 33(3): 310-324. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2017.1346695
  • 2017: Multiple Accountabilities: Development Co-operation, 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
  • 2012: Enacting Spaces of Inequality: Placing Global/State Governance within a Tanzanian Hospital. In 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
  • 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
  • 2010: (with Hansjörg Dilger, and David Garcia) Negotiating Professionalism, Economics, and Altruism: An Appeal for Ethnographic Approaches to African Medical Migration. African Diaspora 3(2):237-254. doi:10.1163/187254610X526931

Peer-Reviewed Book Chapters

  • 2016: Hosting Gazes: Clinical Volunteer Tourism and Hospital Hospitality in Tanzania. In Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa. Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown, eds. Pp. 140-163. Rochester, NY: James Currey.
  • 2016: (with Claire Wendland and Susan Erikson) Beneath the Spin: Moral Complexity and Rhetorical Simplicity in ‘Global Health.’ In Volunteer Economies: The Politics and Ethics of Voluntary Labour in Africa. Ruth Prince and Hannah Brown, eds. Pp. 164-182. Rochester, NY: James Currey.

Recent Op-Eds