Theresa Anasti

Theresa Anasti is an organizational scholar and social worker who focuses on understanding the role of nonprofit and community-based organizations in bettering the conditions for underrepresented populations. She is especially interested in the role of such organizations in working with and for “unpopular” and criminalized populations stigmatized by wider society, including sex workers, active drug users, and the unhoused.

Her qualitative work asks several questions important for the consideration of organizations that provide human services and advocate for underrepresented populations. First, how are people with lived experience included in the design and implementation of services that are meant to improve their lives? Second, how do leaders of mutual aid and grassroots organizations (particularly those made up of people with lived experience) contend with the tensions between their radical support work and the realities of nonprofit work? Third, how do frontline service providers, as street level bureaucrats, actually think about, and provide services to unpopular populations?  At stake is a practical question for the field: how can we best provide anti-carceral, trauma-informed human services and resources to populations that are themselves marginalized within the field of social work?

Past work has included a large-scale qualitative project of relationships between mainstream human service nonprofits and a sex workers’ rights organization, highlighting the need for professionalization and the complexities of inter-organizational collaboration for organizations in policy fields that may be perceived as controversial. Emerging work includes a qualitative study of individuals working at syringe service programs (SSPs), and how they have adapted to changes in the field’s political and funding environments.

Prior to her role at the Brown School, Dr. Anasti was an Associate Professor of Social Work and BSW Program Director at Oakland University in Rochester, MI.  She is an avid harm reductionist.

Theresa Anasti

Areas of Focus:

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Harm reduction
  • Sex work
  • Street level bureaucracy

Featured Publications