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Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: Events


Heat of the Moment: Anthropology In and Of Global Health Emergencies

Event Name Heat of the Moment: Anthropology In and Of Global Health Emergencies
Start Date 4th Sep 2017 9:30am
End Date 4th Sep 2017 10:30am
Duration 1 hour

The Global Health Governance Programme ( and Centre for Medical Anthropology ( are co-hosting a guest seminar with Darryl Stellmach from Sydney University (

Title:  Heat of the Moment: Anthropology In and Of Global Health Emergencies

Abstract: Anthropologists played a prominent role in the public health response to the West African Ebola Virus epidemic (2013-2016). This led to calls (from the World Health Organisation and Médecins Sans Frontières, among others) to integrate anthropological mechanisms into existing global emergency response structures. These calls represent both a threat and an opportunity for anthropology, and the social sciences in general. On the one hand, they offer social scientists an immediate, practical relevance; on the other hand, it heightens the possibility that research knowledge is misunderstood, instrumentalized and misused in the face of complex bureaucratic and political realities. 

This talk will attempt to summarize, i), how anthropologists have been perceived and used in recent health emergencies, ii), what current initiatives are underway to integrate anthropology and social science knowledge into emergency response and iii), what future roles and potential challenges anthropologists and other social scientists might take up as they move into a more institutional engagement within global health emergencies.

It concludes with a reflection on how the accelerating threat of large-scale emergencies—impelled by a wide range of interlinked factors such as emerging infectious diseases, anti-microbial resistance, anthropogenic climate change, and global political and economic instability—may prompt a conceptual change within emergency global health institutions. While still governed by technocratic logic, emergency response organisations may nevertheless be opening themselves to a more nuanced understanding of nature, society, and the role of public health. This has implications for how we conceptualized and respond to emergent crisis.

Darryl is a Post-Doctoral Associate in medical anthropology, food and nutrition security at the University of Sydney. On a part-time basis, he also works with the public health research unit of Médecins Sans Frontières-UK (MSF), overseeing the introduction of anthropological methods and analysis to MSF field programs. Darryl’s research focuses on the social and political life of epidemics, food security and nutritional crises.

Prior to academia Darryl spent ten years as field manager for medical humanitarian aid organizations, working in disaster, conflict and post-conflict settings East and West Africa, South America and South Asia. He left aid work to take up graduate studies, winning a Commonwealth Scholarship to read for a doctorate at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oxford. His 2016 doctoral thesis is a participant observation study of MSF’s response to the South Sudan civil war and subsequent humanitarian emergency. A multi-sited ethnography, it follows MSF teams in Europe, the capital Juba and remote hospital sites as they come to understand and responded to the crisis.

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