Skip to main content

Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: SoMA: Students of Medical Anthropology


Work in Progress Seminar 2017


When: 9am-5pm, 24th February 2017

Where: CMB

SoMA’s first ‘Work in Progress’ Seminar aimed to foster the relationships between Edinburgh’s students of medical anthropology, strengthening the links between masters, pre-fieldwork and postfieldwork PhDs, creating a space to present and discuss ideas in a supportive environment. The event featured presentations from Research Msc and PhD students, showcasing the current work of pre and post fieldworkers on a variety of topics relating to medical anthropology (see abstracts below). What followed was a collaborative workshop which focused on giving masters students the opportunity to discuss their dissertation ideas, and offering feedback and insight from PhD students. The Work in Progress Seminar was very well-received from all participants, and it is hoped that it will become a regular feature of SoMA’s annual events.

Some Feedback from the day:

“The Works In Progress seminar was informative and fun! It was wonderful to hear about research at all stages-- from a few months of thoughtful reading to just-back from fieldwork, to nearing completion of the PhD-- in a more relaxed environment than the typical anthropology research seminar. I enjoyed meeting the PhD students themselves and I really appreciated the chance to work through my initial research ideas with them. So glad SoMA organized this, and hoping it will continue for many years!” - Katherine McDaniel, Msc Student of Medical Anthropology

“I think the best part [of the work in progress seminar] was to see how anthropology is done at the PhD level and realizing that with the few months of being in this masters programme I was able to understand and exchange ideas with both PhDs as masters colleagues. I believe that the informal structure was basic to create this sense of camaraderie around something all enjoy which is medical anthropology.” - Bernardo Moreno Peniche, Msc student of Medical Anthropology


Rebekah Thompson


Pigs, People, Pathogens: An ethnographic study of the Ugandan pig value chain 

This paper traces the importance and value of pigs for farmers in Mukono, Uganda. In Mukono, farmers claimed that they ‘loved’ their pigs or that pigs were part of the family. Pigs roamed in and out of homes, were given pet names and recognized as having specific personalities. This type of farmer- pig relationship was, however, considered by veterinarians to lead to potential outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF). ASF is a fatal and highly contagious haemorrhagic virus of pigs. Endemic in Uganda, all of the veterinarians I worked with aimed to prevent ASF through the implementation of biosecurity measures. These measures were argued to secure pigs lives and therefore farmer’s livelihoods in the present. However, I demonstrate the ways in which pigs are valued beyond a means of securing farmer’s livelihoods. Practices that fatten pigs, such as free roaming, transform pig's bodies into something that spans multiple temporalities, from covering the costs of emergencies or as an investment into future costs such as school fees. Through examining why farmers value pigs and the practices that transform pigs into something that is valuable, I aim to illustrate the limits of advocating biosecurity measures in an attempt to prevent ASF outbreaks.

Pia Noel


The interplay between ‘need’ and ‘response’: An ethnographic multi-stakeholder response analysis to mental distress in post-disaster urban Nepal

‘Mental health disaster’ humanitarian efforts and resources are largely being spent on addressing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) despite the lack of agreement on the public health validity and utility of the diagnosis. The usefulness of these efforts and investments is widely debated. Less amount of work has looked at the nature of the relationship between mental health care need(s) and response(s) in these settings. Focusing on post-disaster urban Nepal, this project explores how different stakeholders understand the mental health needs of the population, how they are responding to these and what is the interplay between the need(s) and response(s). The main research question is: How do mental health ‘need(s)’ and ‘response(s)’ shape and re-shape each other? The clinical/healing, humanitarian and family/community contexts will be studied ethnographically during 12 months of fieldwork in Lalitpur (Nepal). Qualitative methods of investigation will be used, including semistructured interviews, focus groups, case studies and free-listing. The key goals are to 1) elucidate points of convergence and divergence in conceptualizations of mental distress amongst different stakeholders 2) to inform policy and provide suggestions for service delivery that could lead to more meaningful outcomes 3) help avoid inappropriate, wasteful and/or harmful ways of addressing ‘mental distress’.

Bridget Bradley

“Why can’t you just stop?” Families and Conflicts of Care (body-focused repetitive behaviours)

This paper will describe the experiences with family members in living and dealing with BFRBs and the ways in which caring for children with compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania) is often complex and contested. Based on fieldwork within the BFRB community in the UK and US, I found that memories of parent reactions to hair pulling during childhood and adolescence were often negative and certain care practices often reinforced the stigma associated with the disorder. There was also a silence from families, who refused to talk about the issue, which led to increased feelings of isolation. Families frequently did not know how to react when they saw hair pulling, and often their methods of ‘helping’ increased embarrassment and anxiety. Frequent examples of this were described when people had their hands slapped away from their heads and were told to ‘stop it!’ by family members. Interviews with parents at the BFRB family conferences in USA showed the ways that parents feel ‘powerless’ to help their children, often finding it distressing to watch them ‘damaging themselves’, as well as a loss or grief for their loss of hair and subsequent identities as daughter/child. In contrast, the misunderstandings and frustrations that were associated with family members, seemed to strengthen the bond between others who have BFRBs, who are often described in kinship terms (BFRB Family). For people living with BFRBs, the importance of having people who ‘really understand what you’re going through’, is described in terms of relatedness and belonging.

Hannah McInnes-Dean

Making Mothers, Making Fathers: The creation of gendered parents in Edinburgh

My paper examines the ‘birth story’, a term that my interlocutors brought to the fore of our conversations. Following Cheryl Mattingly’s (2000) argument that ‘a story, an effective one at least, not only is about something but also does something’, I examine what birth stories do for women and men in Edinburgh. I argue that birth stories make (specific kinds of) mothers; make gender salient for men (and women) in new ways; and can become emblematic of couple relationships.

Alice Nagle


Christian ethic, women’s experience: ethnography of quotidian sexuality in the American Bible Belt

In anthropological discourses on sexuality, a commonplace standpoint has been that sex is a signifier of ‘bigger’ themes, e.g. power, politics, and moral construction. This chapter challenges this assumption and proposes an approach that foregrounds ethnographic enquiry into the sexual lives of evangelical women in America. I argue that quotidian sexual practice is relevant to ideas of health and wellbeing, particularly when contextualised in an ethnographic framework of gendered ethical selfmaking. For evangelical Christian pronatalists, who are deeply concerned with living out a reproductive ethic according to the Bible, sex is woven into the project of identity, along with pregnancy and birth. Although fecundity is socially and spiritually valued, sex is considered to have merit outside of procreation. I explore how women in my field site of Northwest Arkansas manage their sexual lives and how negotiations of sexual practice shape their conceptions and experiences of marriage, reproduction, worship, and the body.

Venkatesh Boddu


Understanding male infertility: attitudes towards infertility, reproductive health and assisted reproduction in Telangana, South India.

My research aims to explore married couples’ attitudes towards infertility, reproductive health and assisted reproductive technologies. I will focus on men’s understanding of infertility in general and male infertility in particular and their response, in India. The anthropology of reproduction has mainly looked at fertility and infertility as a ‘women’s issue’, focusing on childbirth processes and reproductive health. Male voices have been marginal or absent in these studies. Marcia Inhorn has conducted pioneering work on infertility among Middle Eastern men and women, which argue for a serious look at men’s views about reproduction. However, there are no ethnographic studies on men’s attitudes to reproduction in India. This study aims to fill this gap in literature by looking at men in parts of Telangana region, their attitudes towards infertility and the kind of challenges they face in their various structural roles, as husbands and sons, in trying to fulfil their desire for offspring. Through this study, local notions and definitions of infertility and childlessness will be brought to the fore. For this study, fieldwork was conducted in Hyderabad city, and villages in rural Telangana, especially in Vikarabad. This multi-sited study will reveal the diverse perspectives on infertility in rural and urban areas of India and will contribute to anthropological studies of reproduction, gender, and kinship.

Roslyn Malcolm


"The horses are the pinnacle of sensory input": 'sensory work' and the question of sensory integration

This paper explores ‘sensory work’, practices used by practitioners at horse-assisted therapy centres to attune to the complex sensory profiles of clients on the autism spectrum. During 16 months of fieldwork at such centres in England, I found that ‘sensory processing disorder’ was understood as productive of, and not peripheral to, the condition of autism. The first stage of the intervention was designed to aid clients in finding spaces of ‘sensory integration’: of stillness, free from sensory overload and confusion. Practitioners limited ‘negative’ sensory triggers and provided targeted, ‘positive’ sensory input. This was achieved in several ways including body-to-body contact with horses and practitioners in back-riding sessions - featuring the application of ‘deep pressure’ - and a range of other calming sensory infrastructures such as the ‘green environment’ and sensory rooms. Through achieving this receptive state of ‘integration’ the second aim of enabling communication could then be attempted, by ‘finding the right pressure’. Communication was thus an embodied process, happening with and through the sensorium. The intervention worked with, rather than against, the idiosyncratic sensory experiences of clients, which challenged the normative notion of the senses as five distinct modes of perception and awareness.

Nabila El Khatib


Mayye wa mileh -  The Social Life of Hunger strike in the Palestinian context

Palestinian hunger strikes have become source of concern and debate, for human rights groups, the medical profession, the Israeli legal system, Palestinian political parties, and Israeli prison officials, not to mention the prisoners' own families. The starving bodies of prisoners raise questions about the differing obligations of doctors, lawyers, political movements and kin in relation to the power of life and death. My research focuses on the Social Life of the hunger strike. By this I mean the multiple meanings and implications of hunger strikes across a variety of domains. By asking how the hunger strike's meanings and ambiguous layers of violence are enacted within social relationships, my project shifts the perspective from the immediacy of the prison environment to the representations, discourses and practices around hunger strikes outwith prison.

white image