Laura Bisaillon

Laura Bisaillon
Associate Professor / Professeure agrégée
Building HL
Social Media @bisaillon_laura

Scholarly Biography

I am a sociologist educated in Canada and France. From Montréal, I am fluently bilingual in English and French.

I earned degrees from Ottawa PhD (medical sociology), McGill MUP (rural and small-town studies), and Bishop’s BA (liberal arts). I held postdoctoral fellowships at McGill (biomedical ethics) and York (sociology). I joined the University of Toronto in 2013.

My scholarship is directly shaped by my prior career as a street-level social services worker, urban planner, rural planner, and cooperative housing developer. I worked professionally in central and Atlantic Canada (Prince Edward Island, Quebec), Southeast Asia (Indonesia), Africa (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Senegal), and the southern Caribbean (Trinidad). I have been involved in HIV work for twenty years, most recently as board member for the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario and as collaborator with the HIV Legal Network and la Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida. In these milieus, I learned about people’s skill in contending with tensions and contradictions produced by opaque municipal, provincial, federal, supranational, and nongovernmental bureaucracies.

These experiences led me to organize a program of scholarly research as a series of institutional ethnographies into the social organization of knowledge of lay versus expert ways of knowing about medical, legal, and administrative practices and their implications. Within this frame, I have carried out and reported on fieldwork exploring forced immobility in Eritrea, cooperative organizing in Ethiopia, ethics of care in Iran, and socialist solidarities in Romania. In my studies, I take the standpoint of people toward whom exclusionary policy, law and regulation are directed with a view to understanding the inner workings of bureaucracies.

My research has been externally funded by the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, les Fonds de recherche du Québec, Reflet Salvéo, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


AIDS and its Legacies; Culture, Illness and Healing; Institutional Ethnography in Action; Qualitative Research in Action; and Migration, Medicine and the Law.

Scholarly Publications

My first book is Screening Out: HIV Testing and the Canadian Immigration Experience (University of British Columbia Press, 2022). It is an analysis of the social organization of the Canadian immigration medical program, specifically its HIV-related medical, legal, and administrative practices. The argument is that mandatory HIV screening triggers institutional practices that are highly problematic for would-be immigrants, refugees, and for the bureaucrats, doctors, and lawyers. Written as a narrative-driven analysis detailing the events in the application process of an African woman in her interactions with an immigration doctor, the outcome of her process is revealed in the book’s last pages. From this body of work, I made the animated film The Unmaking of Medical Inadmissibility (2020).

My second book is an edited collection entitled Political Activist Ethnography: Studies in the Social Relations of Struggle (with Agnieszka Doll and Kevin Walby) (Athabasca University Press, 2024).

I am currently working on two book manuscripts. The first is an ethnography about environmental advocacy in the form of citizen science responses to government infrastructure projects beginning in 1950s by fishers in Rustico, Prince Edward Island. The second is an intellectual biography of Dorothy E. Smith (1926-2022) within the story of Canadian sociology during the 1970s and 1980s. Screening Out and these books are conceptual companions: they document, analyze, and produce knowledge from below about so-called peripheral people, places, and politics, through which new understandings about Canadian society emerge.

My scholarly articles have appeared in ACME: An International Journal of Critical Geographies, Aporia: Nursing Journal, Bioéthique Online, Canadian Journal of Public Health, Canadian Journal of Sociology, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canadian Social Work, Culture, Health and Sexuality, Feminist Studies, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Health and Human Rights, HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review, Imaginations: Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies, International Journal of Migration and Border Studies, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, Journal of Ethiopian Studies, Medical Education, Public Health Ethics, Qualitative Health Research, Rejoinder, Somatosphere, and Urbanistica.

Scholarly Honours

Canadian Studies Network, Best Book Prize, 2023

Canadian Sociology Book Award Honourable Mention, Canadian Sociological Association, 2023

Visiting Professor, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest, 2018 and 2022

Research Fellow, Brocher Foundation, Switzerland, 2017 and 2022

Research Fellow, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2020

Connaught New Researcher Award, University of Toronto, 2014

Senior Academic Fellow, Lupina Foundation, University of Toronto, 2014

Canada’s Distinguished Dissertation Award, Canadian Association for Graduate Studies, 2013

Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, University of Ottawa, 2012

Joseph De Koninck Prize, University of Ottawa, 2012