We cordially invite you to our joint "Radical Health" conference, which
will take place in Berlin on 2-4 October 2020 (see below and
attachment).Please submit an abstract of max. 300 words describing your
theoretical intervention, ethnographic research, or health initiative by
20 October 2019 to [log in to unmask]
We encourage suggestions for individual scientific presentations,
roundtables, film screenings, and other formats that will enable the
involvement of all conference participants and foster collaborative ways
of knowing and acting.
Please feel free to circulate this call within your networks within and
beyond the academic world.
Thank you and best wishes,
The organizing team (on behalf of the Work Group Medical Anthropology,
the Association for Anthropology and Medicine, and the Institute of
Social and Cultural Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin)
Helmar Kurz, Claudia Lang, Dominik Mattes, Caroline Meier zu Biesen,
Nasima Selim, and Ehler Voss
"Radical Health. Doing Medicine, Health Care, and Anthropology of the Good"
In contemporary times of proliferating neoliberalization, augmenting
socio-economic disparity, environmental degradation, and political
struggles around identities and belonging, health and well-being are
becoming increasingly fragile. Entangled economic, ecological, social,
cultural, and political factors affect people’s living environments and
professional worlds and render health and health care provision a
Throughout the past four decades, social and cultural anthropology has
played a significant part in unearthing the “harsh and brutal dimensions
of human experience, and the structural and historical conditions that
produce them” (Ortner 2016: 49) in both theoretical and empirical terms.
Critical medical anthropologists, in particular, have enhanced our
apprehension of how even the most intimate aspects of ill health are to
be read in the light of larger political-economic conditions impinging
on the world and the humans dwelling in it. Their contribution may be
subsumed under what Sherry Ortner has labeled ‘dark anthropology’. This
notion comprises a theoretical emphasis on “terms of power,
exploitation, and chronic pervasive inequality” as well as a predominant
empirical interest in “dark subject matter” such as the articulations
and effects of neoliberalism. Notwithstanding the relevance of such
anthropological inquiry, however, Ortner questions its purpose “if we
cannot imagine better ways of living and better futures” (ibid.: 60). In
a similar vein, Joel Robbins proposed to turn toward an ‘anthropology of
the good’, which does not “dismiss people’s investments in realizing the
good in time as a mere utopianism” and “returns to our discipline its
ability to challenge our own versions of the real” (ibid.: 458). Such an
anthropology of the good can act in solidarity with radical notions and
practices of “good” medicine and health care oriented to not only the
past and the present but also imaginative futures (cf. Jackson 2013).
Transposing these ideas to the fields of medical anthropology, medicine,
and public/global health, in this conference we wish to focus attention
on how ‘healthy futures’ can be envisioned, theorized and actually be
‘done’ despite and in response to multiple constraints. We are
specifically interested in gauging the mutual fertilization of
“emancipatory social science” that aims to explore alternatives to
established “structures of power, privilege, and inequality” (Wright
2010: ii), on the one hand, and attempts of providing health care in
radically novel ways, on the other. Radicality, here, may be understood
in the sense of taking seriously the intersectionality involved in
health issues, which not only require medical or technological
interventions, but also political, economic, and ecological responses.
It may further refer to approaches that defy customary social and
professional hierarchies and aim for more productive forms of
collaboration and solidarity.
To this end, we wish to gather anthropologists and other social
scientists, medical professionals and health practitioners, as well as
health activists. We seek theory- and practice-oriented as well as
ethnography-based contributions that open up avenues toward an
understanding of what is conducive to “good” health in politically,
economically, ecologically or otherwise restricted living contexts.
Among other questions, we wish to discuss: How do innovative/radical
projects and initiatives foster ‘good’ medicine and health care? What
are the challenges to implementing respective visions in specific
political-economic and socio-cultural contexts such as urban
(super)diversity, transnational migration, austerity politics,
ecological crises, and reemerging nationalism and authoritarianism?
Which socio-material infrastructures do actors build on to counter
structural impediments to their day-to-day work such as shrinking state
investments in health?
Another set of questions concerns the conceptualizations and political
implications of ‘radicality’ (and, for that matter, alterity) itself:
Which registers of radicality and alterity are conducive to establishing
effective alternative forms of designing and doing health care? Are
explicit political demands for the alteration, if not abolishment of
hegemonic institutions, more promising in the long run than the
successive establishment of subversive small-scale spaces of alternative
medical practice? What do relevant actors conceive as radically
different in the first place? Who perceives whom to be radical for what
reasons and to what effect?
We are further interested in theories that substantiate the work of
existing radical health initiatives. Which social scientific notions
have found and proved to be productive for involved professionals’ ways
of critically reflecting on health and well-being and practicing health
care? Conversely, where do particular concepts and approaches reach the
limits of their explanatory force, and which new theoretical questions
arise from health professionals’ and activists’ practical involvement in
continually changing socio-demographic and political contexts?
In sum, the conference will explore the possibilities for a mutual
cumulative learning process between practice and theory and converge
anthropological, medical, and health epistemologies, to generate new
research questions, induce innovative theoretical and practical
approaches, and exceed conventional ways of knowing and doing health
(cf. Hardon and Pool 2016). We particularly aim at gauging possibilities
for the formation of strategic collaborations of social scientists,
medical professionals, public health experts, health activists, and
other professionals toward transgressing boundaries between
theoretically oriented academia and practice-oriented medicine and
health care, and contribute to the continuous envisioning and
implementation of anthropology, medicine and health care of the good.
Hardon, Anita and Robert Pool. 2016. Anthropologists in global health
experiments. /Medical Anthropology /35(5): 447-451.
Ortner, Sherry. 2016. Dark anthropology and its others. Theory since the
eighties. /HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory /6(1): 47-73.
Robbins, Joel. 2013. Beyond the suffering subject: toward an
anthropology of the good. /Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute /19: 447-462.
Wright, Erik Olin. 2010. /Envisioning Real Utopias/. London and New
Jackson, Michael. 2013. /The Wherewithal of Life: Ethics, Migration and
the Question of Wellbeing. /Berkeley: University of California Press.
Dr. Dominik Mattes
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter | Research Associate
Freie Universität Berlin | Institut für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie
DFG SFB 1171 "Affective Societies“
Teilprojekt C03 "Verkörperte Emotionen und affektive Zugehörigkeit
im Migrationszusammenhang: Sufizentren und (neue) Pfingstkirchen in Berlin"
Habelschwerdter Allee 45 | 14195 Berlin | Raum JK30/203
Tel. +49 (0)30 838 60528
** Recently published **
Dominik Mattes. 2019. Fierce Medicines, Fragile Socialities. Grounding Global HIV Treatment in Tanzania.
New York, Oxford: Berghahn.https://berghahnbooks.com/title/MattesFierce
50% discount code MAT219 (valid through October 2019)
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