Professor Elizabeth Wheatley



Professor Elizabeth Wheatley
2158 AuSable Hall


University of California, Santa Cruz
Ph.D. Sociology

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
M.S. Kinesiology with a specialization in the sociology of sports

Colby College
A.B. Economics


Health, Illness, Medicine, Ethnography, Sport, Contemporary Theory


Social Problems
Sociology of Health Car
Health and Social Inequalities

Current Research Interests

The thread of continuity tying all Libby’s work together is the body.  Her research explores the personal, symbolic, and political significance of the body in relation to health, illness, medicine, risk, sport, exercise, and fitness.  Libby’s work uses qualitative and ethnographic methods in focused explorations of embodied experience.

Her current ethnographic research explores citizen suffering and activist struggles over land-based industrial wind energy developments.  Her research examines the perspectives and experiences of residents of the “footprint” areas of industrial wind developments in selected areas of the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, Ontario, Canada, Victoria and South Australia  as well as the North Island of New Zealand. 


Libby earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with specializations in the sociology of health, illness, medicine, ethnography and contemporary theory.  She earned an M.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a specialization in the sociology of sport, and an A.B. in Economics from Colby College.

Prior to coming to Grand Valley, Libby taught in the departments of Sociology at Smith College, Hamilton College and the University of California, Santa Cruz.  She has taught courses in Medical Sociology, AIDS and Society, Sociology of Sport, American Society, and The Body in Society.  At Grand Valley, Libby teaches courses in the Sociology of Health Care and Health and Social Inequalities.

Libby’s publications appear in the Journal of Contemporary EthnographyQualitative Health Research, Women and LanguageWomen’s Studies International Forum and the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.   Her book, Bodies at Risk: An Ethnography of Heart Disease, was published by Ashgate in 2006. 

Bodies at Risk analyzes heart disease along three dimensions: the personal experience of living with heart disease and its risks, the commercialization of risk in consumer culture and the social construction and effects of discourses on risk in cardiac rehabilitation.  The research draws inspiration from contemporary theories of reflexive modernization (e.g., Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens) as well as Foucault’s middle-period writings on discipline, and late-period writings on the care of the self.  The analysis identifies the limitations of market-based health promotion strategies, which individualize and privatize risk reduction, and obscure social and economic conditions that impede healthy lifestyles and harm health.

Libby’s ongoing research explores the embodied experiences of migrant farm workers through life history interviews and ethnographic observations among migrant farm workers in the Salinas and Southern San Joaquin Valleys of California as well as the US-Mexico border regions of the Imperial Valley and San Diego County.  She is particularly interested in the embodied experiences of farm workers and the wide ranging impediments to health that affect their daily lives.    

Page last modified June 1, 2017