Theses Doctoral

In Pursuit of Healthful Narratives: Black Women and Gender-Expansive Citizens Creating and Performing Art and Cultural Work in Service of “Good Health”

Burch, Shanaé R.

Understanding “all policy is health policy,” this dissertation explores Black people’s healing and wellbeing with an abolition mindset. Through the lens of arts and culture in public health, the title denotes a pursuit of “healthful narratives” with ethical storytelling, creating, and performing that is conducive to good health. It manifests as public health dreaming in the midst of COVID-19 and state-sanctioned violence resulting from colonialism and racial capitalism—which contribute to racial hierarchies and millions of cross-generational deaths. This mixed-methods study contemplates the future of health promotion with concern for honoring Black creativity’s role in population health, and reckons with racial capitalism as foundational to health inequities and preventable, premature death.

The study asks 1) What socio-cultural pathways do or can exist for theatrical and performance productions for health promotion? 2) In the face of racial, gendered capitalism, how does creativity manifest for Black women and/or gender-expansive people when creating or performing art and cultural work related to health promotion goals? Merging arts and culture into traditional public health infrastructure further exacerbates anti-Black harm, because it risks history repeating itself as our contemporary reality. As practice-based evidence, my Black Feminist Performance Auto/ethnography is research-engaged theatre, accompanied by learnings from research partners practicing contemplative arts-based research methodology.

The findings are GriefLove, co-conceived with Des Bennett (director and dramaturg), and a narrative analysis of collage-based health mosaics and definitions of healthful narratives as forecasts of community-driven public health dreaming. The final chapter presents three socio-cultural pathways: “Black Embodiment,” “The Aesthetics of Health,” and “Futurity.” In the spirit of healthful narratives, it closes with a letter to Black Public Health Creatives and Cultural Workers in service of cultural and health equity—markers of “Good Health.”


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Thesis Advisors
Allegrante, John P.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2023