Urban EMS Work

Image credit - Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) project is Chris’s original graduate research project. Begun in 2009 as a pilot study and expanded between 2011 and 2015 as Chris’s dissertation research, the project has aimed to understand the constraints on urban EMS work. In particular, Chris’s dissertation used a mix of ethnographic, qualitative, quantiative, and spatial techniques to understand how EMS work simultaneously shapes and is shaped by the neighborhoods where it occurs. Providers experience the city during both downtime and on emergency calls, and play an informal role in managing a variety of social phenomena that are not, strictly speaking, medical emergencies. This marginalized work gives rise to negative perceptions of place on the part of providers with potential long-term consequences to residents of those neighborhoods.

This work is now being expanded as a book manuscript titled Medicine at the Margins, which seeks to situate the EMS work explored in Chris’s dissertation in a wider institutional context. In Medicine at the Margins, EMS work is framed as a marginalized occupation, not clearly situated in either medicine or public saftey. As an institution, then, the EMS system lacks a clear occupational identity. This marginality is furthered by the very character of EMS work, which is understood as “shit work” in both literal and figuritive senses. This tension between the imaginary of EMS work as treating “real emergencies” and the reality of EMS work as forming a key component of our response to socially marginalized individuals, first explored in Chris and Alisa Lincoln’s 2015 article, creates yet another tension for urban EMS providers to navigate.

Christopher Prener
Assistant Professor of Sociology

My research interests include first responder work, urban neighborhood disorder, and tracing the effects of place on poor health outcomes.