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Dr Daniela Heil

Senior Lecturer

School of Humanities and Social Science (Sociology and Anthropology)

Mediating cultural differences

Dr Daniela Heil's anthropological expertise is helping to understand the impact of cultural differences on the health of indigenous communities.

Mediating Cultural Differences

Dr Daniela Heil first started working with an Aboriginal community in Central Western NSW in 1997 as part of her PhD-related anthropological fieldwork and since then has developed lifelong relationships with Indigenous communities and people.

Her strong connection has given her great insight into why the health system is letting down Aboriginal people.

"Often non-Aboriginal policy makers refer to the way health care providers should behave in terms of 'cultural appropriateness', but this term has been coined from a non-Indigenous perspective," Dr Heil said.

"Instead Aboriginal people judge healthcare in terms of 'cultural safety'. They place a greater emphasis on what they have experienced over time, how they feel and how their feelings are addressed," she said.

With health statistics showing poor outcomes for Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, including life expectancies of up to 15 years below those of non-Indigenous Australians, Heil's work has illustrated that such cultural differences are major factors in explaining why mainstream health interventions are not embraced by Aboriginal peoples in the same ways.

Heil, a researcher from the Faculty of Education and Arts, has built on her PhD research to address the question of whether the distinctive characteristics of Indigenous cultures can be successfully accommodated in health policy and practice, in Indigenous peoples' terms.

Her work, which has been published in the British Social Science and Medicine Journal, titled "Conceptualizing "risk taking" in Australian Aboriginal health" looks at discrepancies between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspective on health and wellbeing.

"Health providers need to look at Aboriginal perspectives in terms of what do they want and why they resist culturally appropriate terminology. They also need to look at risk management with patients – how health providers talk about risk and consider from the Aboriginal perspective what it means to do risky things," Dr Heil said.

Dr Heil says it's not that Indigenous people don't care about their health; it's just that they place a greater importance on others so putting their health first can end up contradicting their cultural values.

"If their doctors says 'you must take your medication – it's your priority', that order might contradict ten other social obligations that are their priority in culturally oriented terms. That is, for Aboriginal Australians greater emphasis is placed on responsibilities for family, so if they are seen to be putting their individual selves first, it's about risking and jeopardising the social acceptance of their kin," Dr Heil said.

The outcomes of Dr Heil's work contribute to informing health care policy formation with a greater emphasis on extended family networks and considerations for the differing local issues in each Indigenous community.

"If someone gets five minutes of advice on how to be healthy and then goes home and can't incorporate that into their life, it makes no difference. I'm proposing if you take the time to explain health care issues in culturally safe ways, even though it might cost more to do it properly in the long run, it will actuallyhave a significant affect on Indigenous health outcomes," Dr Heil said.

As an interesting side project, since 2006 Dr Heil has studied a relatively new phenomenon where German parents use Ukraine surrogates to give birth to the biological children of the former.

"Couples fly to the Ukraine where egg and sperm are implanted into surrogates, who then give birth nine months later," she said. "As soon as the child is born the parents go to Germany, get a passport issued, the mother says that she gave birth to the child in the Ukraine, then they fly home."

"I'm interested in it in terms of legality. In Germany it's illegal because the surrogate gave birth – they don't accept that the biological mother has given birth. The German government is trying to deal with how to accept these children and it will have consequences later when the children decide to marry as they do not have a proper birth certificate to this point in time," Dr Heil said.

Dr Heil's work in this area will soon be featured in the Cambridge Anthropology journal.

Mediating Cultural Differences

Mediating cultural differences

Daniela Heil's anthropological expertise is helping to understand the impact of cultural differences on the health of indigenous communities.

Read more

Career Summary


Research Expertise
My research expertise is in social and medical anthropology. I have established a sound reputation in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and well being research. My research expertise derives from, and works with, the conjunctures and disjunctures of Australian Indigenous practices and mainstream health approaches. The overall aim of my research has been to set up, develop, elaborate and maintain approaches that mediate national Indigenous health policy agendas with the socio-cultural differences of localised Indigenous knowledges, practices and understandings. To date, my anthropological fieldwork and related research have been situated in Australian Indigenous communities in New South Wales, Western Australia and the Torres Straits. Further research interests address gestational surrogacy experiences and practices.

Medical anthropology, Critical medical anthropology, Australian Aboriginal anthropology, Indigenous health and health policy, Anthropology of the body, personhood and self, Anthropology of health and well-being; gestational surrogacy, kinship and moral order.

Teaching Expertise
SOCA1020 Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology

SOCA2325 Cultural Worlds of Health and Illness

SOCA3315 Bodies in Cultural Perspective

SOCA3630 Drugs in Culture

SOCA4090 Honours I

SOCA4100 Honours II

SOCA6190 Gender and Social Change

SOCA6100 International Health: Critical Social Science Perspectives

Administrative Expertise
Sociology and Anthropology Honours Convenor: January 2010-June 2015

Research Ethics Advisor (REA), Arts and Social Science, Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC): March 2012-June 2014

Acting Deputy Chair, Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC): August 2013-June 2014

Progress and Appeals Committee, School of Humanities and Social Science Representative: January 2013-December 2014

Acting Program Convenor, Master of Social Change and Development: Sem 1, 2013; Sem 1, 2014, Sem 1, 2015

Program Convenor, Graduate Certificate of Social Change and Development & Master of Social Change and Development: 2016

Deputy Head of School, Teaching and Learning, HaSS: January 2016-present


Australian Anthropological Society (AAS, Fellow)

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

American Anthropological Association (AAA)

European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)

with Professor Francoise Dussart, Anthropology, University of Connecticut, United States of America


  • PhD, University of Sydney


  • Anthropology of the body and embodiment
  • Assisted reproductive technologies
  • Critical Medical Anthropology
  • Gestational surrogacy
  • Indigenous Anthropology
  • Indigenous health and well-being
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Personhood, dividuality and social selves
  • Policy in praxis
  • Social Anthropology


  • German (Mother)
  • English (Fluent)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology 50
160199 Anthropology not elsewhere classified 50

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science



Year Award
2010 Inaugural Online Teacher of the Year Award (OTOYA)
The University of Newcastle



Year Title / Rationale
2013 Body Politics and their Medicalization in Aboriginal Australia: Mobile Bodies Keep the Ngyiampaa Healthy?
Organisation: CASCA Conference, University of Victoria, Department of Anthropology Description: Canadian Anthropological Society (CASCA) Conference, May 2013, Hamilton, Victoria B.C.

Thesis Examinations

Year Level Discipline Thesis
2015 Masters Social Sciences Integrated in a Segregated Society: FASD and Disability in the Kimberley, Western Australia
2014 PHD Social Sciences Looking After: Affect and Relatedness among Contemporary Wiradjuri
2013 Masters Social Sciences Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalopathy: A Knowledge-Based Approach to an Indeterminate Illness


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Book (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Macdonald G, Nettheim A, Heil D, The Anthropology Companion, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, United Kingdom, 320 (2017)

Chapter (4 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2015 Evans G, Heil D, 'Fighting for the Heart, Soul and Future of Newcastle', Radical Newcastle, NewSouth, Sydney 285-293 (2015) [B1]
2014 Heil D, 'Well-being and wellness', Second Opinion: An Introduction to Health Sociology, Oxford, Melbourne 40-58 (2014) [B2]
2012 Heil D, 'Happiness in an Aboriginal Australian community: What it means 'to be well' and 'to enjoy life' in Central-Western New South Wales, Australia', Happiness Across Cultures: Views of Happiness and Quality of Life in Non-Western Cultures, Springer, Dordrecht 195-208 (2012) [B1]
2009 Heil D, 'Embodied selves and social selves: Aboriginal well-being in rural New South Wales, Australia', Pursuits of Happiness: Well-Being in Anthropological Perspective, Berghahn Books, New York 88-108 (2009) [B1]
Show 1 more chapter

Journal article (5 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Heil D, 'Trapped in the gap: Doing good in indigenous Australia', Medical Anthropology Newsletter, (2016)
2015 Heil D, 'Sociological Social Work', International Journal of Social Welfare, 24 408-409 (2015) [C3]
DOI 10.1111/ijsw.12166
2008 Heil D, MacDonald G, ''Tomorrow comes when tomorrow comes': Managing Aboriginal health within an ontology of life-as-contingent', Oceania, 78 299-319 (2008) [C1]
Citations Scopus - 9Web of Science - 8
2007 Heil D, 'Benelong's Haven: Recovety from alcohol and drug abuse within an Aboriginal Australian residential treatment centre', AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL STUDIES, 184-185 (2007)
2006 Heil D, 'Shifting expectations of treatment: from 'patient as individual' to 'patient as social person'', Australian Aboriginal Studies, - 98-110 (2006) [C1]
Show 2 more journal articles

Conference (4 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2011 Heil D, 'The Social and the person, not the individual: Traces and legacies of Australian Aboriginal Ngyiampaa understandings of obligations to and responsiveness from 'the social'', Abstracts of the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (2011) [E3]
2010 Heil D, ''Renting a womb': surrogacy in Ukraine and genetic parents from Germany', American Anthropological Association 2010 Annual Meeting Program and Abstracts (2010) [E3]
2009 Heil D, ''Health' as a human right: Addressing Aboriginal understandings of 'well-being' in rural Australia through institutional approaches', AAA Annual Meeting Program (2009) [E3]
2009 Heil D, 'Mediating bureaucratic imperatives with Australian Indigenous understandings of well-being', Medical Anthropology at the Intersections: Celebrating 50 Years of Interdisciplinarity: Conference Session Abstracts (2009) [E3]
Show 1 more conference

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions


Total current UON EFTSL


Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2016 PhD Illness Narratives, Lived Experiences and Illness Conceptualisation in Personality Disorder
PhD (Psychiatry), Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle
2015 PhD Exploring sexuality and gender diversity in Australian sexuality education: A transgender perspective.
PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
2014 PhD Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine use in remote areas of Australia
PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
Principal Supervisor
2008 PhD The Politics and Experience of Contemporary Motherhood
PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle

Past Supervision

Year Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2016 PhD Beyond Resettlement as Refugee: Enduring and Emerging Dimensions of 'Displacement' as Cosmological Rupture for Central African Refugee Women
PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
Principal Supervisor
2013 PhD A Sociological Investigation of Trust in Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use
PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
2012 PhD Obesity is Killing our People: Social Constructions of Obesity and the Impact on the Health and Well-being of Maori and Pacific Island Migrants in Australia
PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle


Radical Newcastle launch

Radical Newcastle launched at Newcastle Writers Festival

March 24, 2015

Watch talks by Newcastle radicals Vera Deacon, Professor John Maynard and Dr Daniela Heil, along with an official launch by Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen of the Radical Newcastle book.

Dr Daniela Heil


Senior Lecturer
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Focus area

Sociology and Anthropology

Contact Details

Phone (02) 4921 6790
Fax (02) 4921 6902


Room W343
Building Behavioural Sciences Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308