Welcome to Context and Variation! My name is Kate Clancy, and I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois.

Within the field of anthropology, my work focuses on understanding human biological variation, particularly in women. A lot of people have developed this idea – from the one biology class they took in high school, what they read on the internet (er…), or what they hear from a medical professional – that there is one right way for a body to be. And if you don’t fit into this narrow interpretation of right, or normal, you are pathological or subclinically pathological.

The way anthropologists study the body challenges this idea, and this is where the title of my blog comes in (by the way, I hope you noticed the beautiful new banner, created by Jacqueline Dillard). We see the body as existing in a way that is context-dependent. And the contexts that impact our body certainly include genes and hormones and sex, but they also include how much physical activity we get in a day, how much fiber we get in our diet, what cultural expectations impact our life decisions, and the degree of social support we get from friends and family.

All of these different contexts? Well, they produce a lot of variation. Not only that, but you vary over the course of your life, and you can see variation within and between different human populations. If you add in my particular field of study – which I fondly refer to as ladybusiness anthropology – reproductively-aged women have all sorts of additional factors that compete to produce their body’s variation, from whether they are pregnant or lactating, to the kind of contraception they use, if any, to how they and their culture define their own gender and sexuality.

What this means is that you’ll see me write quite a bit on the fields of evolutionary medicine and human reproductive ecology, because they support the idea I’ve described above. But I also write about evolutionary psychology, because it often doesn’t. And since I take my position as a role model and mentor seriously, I do write about how being a scientist intersects with other aspects of my life, particularly as a woman and a parent.

Who am I?

The kiddo and me at the beach

The kiddo and me at the beach

Originally from the East Coast, my husband, daughter and I moved to the corn fields of central Illinois for tenure-track jobs. Those of you still on one of the coasts or in a large city: you would be surprised at how great it is to live out here. We’re across the street from a beautiful park and playground, live less than a mile from our offices, and are able to eat local eggs, dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables year round.

Oh, and the jobs are pretty nice too.

Traveling to subjects' homes at my Polish field site

Traveling to subjects' homes at my Polish field site

I love to travel, especially to my field site in southern Poland, but the cycle of grantwriting and childrearing limits my frequency these days. I love to hike, but the lack of topography in central Illinois makes that challenging. I’ve taken up roller derby to fill the void. You’ll find I won’t talk about that here, but it will likely come up on Twitter.

Some representative posts

Ladybusiness anthropology:

Evolutionary psychology:

A scientist’s life

And this summer, I’ll be talking a lot about the birth control pill, because the majority of my questions from women (and men) come from that topic.

I’m often inspired to write on particular topics or news stories because of my readers. So let me know in the comments or over email if there is anything you wish for me to cover.