Karen Coen Flynn, PhD

Senior Research Associate
Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences

Dr. Flynn’s work is firmly grounded on a public/private mix of stakeholder partners, which brings together people whose shared goals and synergistic means of preventing violence and fostering community health may otherwise have gone unrecognized and unrealized.   She serves on the research team for the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Heroin and Crime Initiative: Informing the investigation and prosecution of heroin-related overdose funded by the National Institute of Justice.  She also is on the evaluation team for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County’s SAMHSA-funded Cuyahoga County Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Pilot Project designed to reduce hospitalizations, homelessness, and involvement with the criminal justice system while improving mental health and social outcomes for individuals committed to the AOT program through the Cuyahoga County Probate Court.

Dr. Flynn is a cultural anthropologist with over 20 years of experience in designing, developing and analyzing projects using qualitative and mixed-methods research to explore vulnerable community members’ access to basic needs in the United States, Tanzania and Indonesia. Through her applied, often street-based work she has witnessed first-hand and developed a deep understanding of the burdensome intersections of gender, identity, poverty, hunger, survival sex work, homelessness, violence, chronic illness (e.g., drug addiction, mental illness) and infectious disease (e.g., Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS).

Over the course of her career, as an educator and researcher, her work has included teaching university undergraduate and graduate students, fostering the development of very low-income women into neighborhood leaders engaging community members in health education and awareness, and presenting her research findings in local, state, national and international conferences on cultural/medical anthropology, behavioral health, African Studies and Indonesian Studies. She has published the monograph Food, Culture and Survival in an African City (2005) and various professional journal articles. She also has served as an evaluator for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, New Directions of Pepper Pike and the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.

Prior to coming to CWRU, Karen was an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The University of Akron. Before working at the Begun Center, she held research positions in CWRU’s Department of Anthropology and Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.

Karen was awarded her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Harvard University.  Her doctoral research explored contemporary food-provisioning processes in urban Mwanza, Tanzania. She earned her master’s degree in social anthropology from the University of Cambridge.

Q: Why is your work at the Begun Center important to you, to our community, and to the world? I believe the importance of the Begun’s Center’s activities researching, coordinating, implementing, overseeing, monitoring and evaluating projects arises from the mutual partnerships the Center establishes and nurtures with others. I have seen the excitement that results from the effective connections, communication, trust-building and project implementation that underpin such collaborations and believe the Begun Center’s work is very well placed to foster sustainable, positive, community-wide change in Cleveland’s urban neighborhoods, as well as to advance models to guide improvements in health and safety among communities elsewhere in the world.

Q: What is a cause about which you are particularly passionate? I am personally committed to social justice and increasing vulnerable persons’ access to resources meeting their basic needs.



Food, Culture and Survival in an African City.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

Journal Articles

“Structural Misgendering of Transgender Sex Workers in Chicago via Mug Shots?  A Case Study of Practicing in the Social Sciences.” (2018) Co-authored with R. Lovell and M. Luminais.  Practicing Anthropology, 40(1), 48-52.

Transitioning Illicit Drug Preferences and Identities in Ohio: The Proliferation of Methamphetamine Use among African-Americans.” (2017)  Co-authored with L. Hoffer. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, July, 1-22, doi: 10.1080/15332640.2017.1325809

“Street Credit: The Cultural Politics of African Street Children’s Hunger.” (2007) In Counihan, C. and VanEsterik, P. (Eds.), Food and Culture: A Reader (2nd edition). New York: Routledge.

“Ethical Dilemmas in Research with a Tanzanian NGO Supporting Street Girls and Boys.” (2006) Co-authored with M. Kudrati. Practicing Anthropology, 28(4), 21-25.

“Weaving a Stronger Food-Assistance Net.”(2003) Co-authored with C. Behrman and A. Hanlin. Practicing Anthropology, 25(2), 7-10.

Teaching the Day After: An Assessment of American University Pedagogy in the Wake of September 11, 2001.”(2002) Co-authored with T.J. Boisseau. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 33(3), 350-367.

“Gender, Power and Entitlement Theory.” (2002) Co-authored with C. Behrman. Nutritional Anthropology, 25(1), 35-8.

Urban Agriculture in Mwanza, Tanzania.” (2001) AFRICA, 71 (4), 666-691.

“Food, Gender and Survival Among Street Adults of Mwanza, Tanzania.” (1999) Food and Foodways, 8(1), 1-30.

Edited Journal Issue

“Centering Gender and Women’s Experiences in Katrina’s New Orleans.” (2008) Co- authored chapter and co-edited issue with T.J. Boisseau, K. Feltey, L. Gelfand, and M. Triece. National Women’s Studies Association Journal, New Orleans: A Special Issue on the Gender Politics of Place and Displacement, 20(3), vii-xvii.

Book Reviews

"Poor Families in America’s Health Care Crisis." (2008) American Anthropologist 110(1), 82.

Food Aid After 50 Years: Recasting Its Role. (2006) African Studies Review, 49(3), 62- 63.

Safe Haven: The Story of a Shelter for Homeless Women. (2004) Association for Feminist Anthropology. Posted 8 August 2011.

Mwalimu: The Influence of Nyerere. (1997) International Journal of African Historical Studies 30(2), 407-409.

Crisis, Urbanization, and Urban Poverty in Tanzania. (1996) International Journal of African Historical Studies, 29(3), 23-5.


Selected Presentations

The Utility and Impact of ACHESS on Substance Abuse Treatment Adherence among Youth in an Intensive Outpatient Program. Poster co-presented with David Hussey, 31st Annual Research and Policy Conference on Child, Adolescent, and Young Adult Behavioral Health. Tampa, FL, March 4, 2018.

"Adult Usage of and Satisfaction with Addiction Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (ACHESS) during Substance Abuse Treatment in Cuyahoga County, Ohio." Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. February 14, 2018.