Denise Spitzer, PhD, MA, BA, BSc

Professor, School of Public Health

Pronouns: she/her/hers/elle


Professor, School of Public Health


Area of Study / Keywords

Critical Medical Anthropology Feminist and Gender Studies Migration Studies


I am a critical feminist medical anthropologist by training and inclination. Using a dynamic, multi-scalar lens, I am interested in examining how global processes—intersecting with gender, racialization, migration status, sexuality, ethnicity, and other social identifiers—are implicated in health and wellbeing. 

My current program of research focuses on the impact of the global economy on immigrants, migrants and refugees in different parts of the globe—most notably Southeast and East Asia, Canada and the Horn of Africa—and engages with critical perspectives of the body, transnationalism and constructions of identity; the impact of policy on health; community-based participatory research; and intersectional analysis. 

In addition to my role as professor in the School of Public Health, I am an adjunct professor in the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa. Formerly, I served as the Canada Research Chair in Gender, Migration and Health and as Principal Scientist in the Institute of Population Health from 2005-2015.


PhD (Anthropology), University of Alberta, 1998

MA (Anthropology), University of Alberta, 1993

BA (Chinese Language and Literature), University of Alberta, 1991

BSc (Biology), University of Alberta, 1978




global health


participatory research

qualitative research

visual storytelling

impact of neoliberal globalization and polices on health and well-being


SPH 602 - Engaged Scholarship for Health

An interdisciplinary seminar intended to prepare students with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage effectively with communities and the health system in research and practice. Students will explore the concepts of engaged scholarship and how these can be best applied in their field of expertise to promote research that is both relevant and of high quality. Note: Credit may not be obtained for both PHS 602 and SPH 602. All PhD students are required to complete this course. Students can only receive credit for SPH 602 or 607 and 610. Prerequisite: SPH 603 and SPH 604 or consent of the instructor.

Browse more courses taught by Denise Spitzer

Scholarly Activities

Research - Endemicity, Care, and Gender: Developing a Roadmap for the Resilience of the Malaysian Care Sector.

2022-10-01 to 2024-10-01

Working with the Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) in Malaysia along with the Universiti Malaya and policymakers from the Government of Malaysia, this IDRC-funded WomenRISE research team is exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women engaged in paid and unpaid care work across peninsular and eastern Malaysia. This participatory research project aims to inform national policy and raise awareness of the presence and value of gendered care work in Malaysian society.

Research - Forced Sterilization and Coerced Contraception: Towards a Multinational Agenda —funded by the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies

2021 to 2023

Principal Investigator

Non-consensual control over women's reproduction comprises a continuum of practices including forced sterilization and coerced contraception (FSCC). Although the full extent of these state-sanctioned practices is yet to be uncovered, Indigenous, migrant and rural poor women appear to be particular targets of these interventions. Our team of researchers, advocates, and health practitioners are engaging with survivors of FSCC in Canada, Indonesia, and Peru using arts-based methods. The project culminates in an international summit, the goal of which is to generate a survivor-centred research agenda.

Research - Intersections of Gender, Work, and Health: Migrant Beer Sellers in Southeast Asia, funded by CIHR Operating Grant

2014 to 2019

Principal Investigator

Throughout Southeast Asia, young women, primarily rural-to-urban migrants work, often on commission, selling beer in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other venues.  Employing and training migrant beer sellers as research assistants, we are documenting the workplace hazards faced by migrant women beer sellers in different types of venues in three Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos). In addition to generating recommendations to mitigate the deleterious aspects of beer sellers’ work, this research contributes to our understanding of how gender, work, and health intersect with other social identifiers such as socioeconomic class, migrant status, geography, sexuality and culture.   

Research - Investigating Community-Engaged COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Models Among Marginalized Newcomer Communities: Employment, Community and Mobile-Based Approaches.

2021-09-01 to 2023-09-01

Working with co-principal investigators, Dr. Gabriel Fabreau (U Calgary) and Dr. Kevin Pottie (Western U), and our team of Calgary-based community scholars, we are: examining how COVID-19 vaccine outreach clinics may help enhance access and overcome vaccine hesitancy among vaccinated newcomers; investigating both vaccine acceptance and vaccine hesitancy factors and barriers among vaccine-hesitant and unvaccinated newcomers; and collaborating with community partners to develop context-specific and generalizable recommendations for newcomer vaccination outreach strategies to enhance access and address vaccine hesitancy.

Research - Lives of Migrant Remittances: An Asian Comparative Study, funded by SSHRC Insight Grant

2017 to 2022

Principal Investigator

Migration has been promoted as a tool of development by a host of global institutions and is embraced both by labour migrant sending and receiving countries. The empirical evidence, however, in support of this assertion remains scant, and that which exists indicates mixed results. We focus on Hong Kong, a major migrant labour hub to investigate and compare interconnected transnational social fields that link migrants, families, governments, and institutions from, across, and within the two largest migrant sending countries in the region---the Philippines and Indonesia.

Research - POETRY (Poly-Occularity Engagement and Transnational Research Yearnings): Innovations in Research Across Community-Academic Divides

2022-04-01 to 2023-03-31

Principal Investigator

The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to stalk our SSHRC-funded, transnational participatory research project, Lives of Migrant Remittances (LOMR), which engages academic and community partners in Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Completing fieldwork in Asia as flights were cancelled and borders were closing, community partners importantly prioritized the immediate needs of the migrants they serve.Plans for in-person participatory data analysis were halted, necessitating the development of innovative research strategies that still embraced the tenets of feminist participatory research. Poly-occular engagement and transnational research yearnings (POETRY) emerged from these challenges. Drawing inspiration from Indigenous/Western Two-Eyed Seeing, POETRY brings multiple epistemologies into conversation to creatively transgress boundaries and generate research that addresses our yearnings for a more just world

Research - The Ottawa Ogaden Region Research Partnership, funded by SSHRC Partnership Development Grant.

2014 to 2019

Principal Investigator

Located in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, Denan, which serves as a centre of education, health care and community economic development, is at once a medical outpost and the town that has grown around it. We are undertaking an examination of Denan as a case study through which we can illuminate the impact of this health/community centre model on the local population and the livelihoods that sustain it. Furthermore, we work to create a more equitable international academic-NGO partnership by developing a model of community-based participatory research grounded in local conditions and talents, and engaging in reciprocal knowledge exchange.

Research - Visioning Health II: Indigenous, Participatory Evaluation and Assessment of a Culturally-Grounded and Arts-Informed Intervention for HIV-Positive Aboriginal Women.

2015 to 2019


Visioning Health II supports and evaluates a strengths-based, arts-informed, and culturally-grounded community-based participatory research project that explores the meaning and experience of health and wellness from the perspective of Positive Aboriginal Women (PAW). Guided by a decolonizing and Indigenous approach to research, VH II also explores the role of culture and gender in creating, supporting and maintaining PAWs' health and wellness.


Intersectionality: From Migrant Health Care to Migrant Health Equity.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 11/1/2022
Publication: Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Volume: Migration and Health, S. Galea, C. Ettman, and M. Zaman, editors.
Page Numbers: oo, 186-193

Close Encounters, Migrant Bodies, Workplace, and Intimate Labour in Asia.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L., Lam, T., Wee, K., Yeoh, B.
Publication Date: 11/1/2022
Publication: Gender, Work, and Organization
DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12837

COVID-19 and the Intersections of Gender, Temporary Migration Status, Work, and Place: Focus on Hong Kong and Ontario, Canada.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 9/1/2022
Publication: Geneva: IOM.
Volume: COVID-19 Impacts on Migration and Migrants from a Gender Perspective.
Page Numbers: 17-31.

The Promises of Migrant Entrepreneurship: A Kaleidoscopic Exploration.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 7/1/2022
Publication: London: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Volume: Global Perspectives on Gendered Migrations. N. Piper and C. Mora, editors.
Page Numbers: Pp. 237-251.

Oppression and Im/migrant Health in Canada.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L., Torres, S.
Publication Date: 5/1/2021
Publication: Oppression and Health, 2nd Edition, Elizabeth McGibbon, editor.
Volume: Halifax: Fernwood Press.
Page Numbers: pp. 119-133.

Working Intimacies: Migrant Beer Sellers, Surveillance, and Intimate Labour in Southeast Asia.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 4/8/2021
Publication: Gender, Work, and Organization
Issue: DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12646

Towards Inclusive Migrant Health Care.

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L., Torres, S., Zwi, A., Khalema, E., Palaganas, E.
Publication Date: 6/8/2019
Publication: BMJ
Volume: 366
Issue: DOI 10.1136/bmj.14256

Engendered Movements: Migration, Gender, and Health in a Globalized World

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 2016
Publication: Handbook of Gender and Health, Jasmine Gideon, editor.
Volume: London: Elgar
Page Numbers: 251-267

Migration and Health through an Intersectional Lens

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 2016
Publication: Handbook of Migration and Health, Felicity Thomas and Jasmine Gideon, eds.
Volume: London: Elgar
Page Numbers: 75-94

Return Migrant Entrepreneurship and the Migration and Development Agenda: A Focus on Filipino and Indonesian Migrant Workers

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L.
Publication Date: 2016
Publication: Migration, Mobility, & Displacement
Volume: 2
Issue: 2
Page Numbers: 24-39

Retrenched and Returned: Filipino Migrant Workers During Times of Crisis

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L., Piper, N.
Publication Date: 2014
Publication: Sociology
Volume: 48
Issue: 5
Page Numbers: 1007-1023

Engendering Migrant Health: Canadian Perspectives

Author(s): Spitzer, D. L., editor
Publication Date: 2011
Publication: Toronto: University of Toronto Press