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Social Anthropology:


Alice Street

Alice Street
Dr Alice Street
Senior Lecturer; Chancellors Fellow
4.26 Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh UK EH8 9LD
+33 (0)131 6515573
Research Interests
Anthropology of Melanesia, Biomedical knowledge(s), practices and technologies, hospital ethnography, State building, International development, Bureaucratic Power, nutraceuticals

Guidance and Feedback Hours

  • Monday 10am-12pm

 Academic Profile

My research focuses on the material politics of global health, with a focus on Papua New Guinea and South India.

Research on hospitals in resource-poor contexts explores the ways in which people engage with biomedical technologies in conditions of uncertainty and precariousness. My book, Biomedicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital is published by Duke University Press in October, 2014.

Research on global health governance has examined the ways in which managerial technologies travel to places of state absence or fragility. I am interested in the ways in which managerial knowledge practices have increasingly underpinned global health in recent years and the emergence of management as form of a state-building in an era of securitisation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in a government health office it has examined issues of bureaucratic materiality and managerial personhood and expertise. 

Research on 'Off the Grid' infrastructures examines the relationships that are built into and sustain physical infrastructures for health in locations that are beyond the reach of centrally planned public infrastructures. I examine “humanitarian goods”, such as rapid diagnostic kits or fortified foods, that are developed through public-private partnerships as technical solutions to fragile health systems. In 2013 I was awarded one of the ESRC’s first grants under its new ‘Transforming Social Science’ scheme for a comparative study of infrastructures for living “off the grid”. 

I received my PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge in 2008. I held an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Nuffield New Career Development Fellowship at the University of Sussex until I moved to Edinburgh in 2013. 

Current Research

Biomedicine in an Unstable Place

Biomedicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital. Published by Duke University Press. Discount voucher available here.

Biomedicine in an Unstable Place is the story of people's struggle to make biomedicine work in a public hospital in Papua New Guinea. It is a story encompassing the history of hospital infrastructures as sites of colonial and postcolonial governance, the simultaneous production of Papua New Guinea as a site of global medical research and public health, and people's encounters with urban institutions and biomedical technologies. In Papua New Guinea, a century of state building has weakened already inadequate colonial infrastructures, and people experience the hospital as a space of institutional, medical, and ontological instability.

In the hospital's clinics, biomedical practitioners struggle amid severe resource shortages to make the diseased body visible and knowable to the clinical gaze. That struggle is entangled with attempts by doctors, nurses, and patients to make themselves visible to external others—to kin, clinical experts, global scientists, politicians, and international development workers—as socially recognizable and valuable persons. Here hospital infrastructures emerge as relational technologies that are fundamentally fragile but also offer crucial opportunities for making people visible and knowable in new, unpredictable, and powerful ways.

Selling Nutraceuticals in South India

My new research focuses on the creation of new markets for nutraceuticals amongst the rural poor in South India. It is concerned with the interplay of cultural food practices and scientific evidence making in the development, marketing and distribution of fortified foods and beverages as a solution to malnutrition amongst the poor.

This research forms a part of the Centre for New Economies of Development, which is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, University of Sussex and Oxford University.

Read more about nutraceuticals in Orissa, India here:

Publicly Available Lectures

Rethinking Infrastructure for Global Health

The Nutraceutical Self

Technologies Designed for Sparse Environments

Mobile Laboratories: Integrating Diagnostics with Health Infrastructure

For further information please see:

For information on the MSc in Medical Anthropology see the Graduate School website pages here.

Selected Publications

Street, Alice (2014). When Comparison Comes First: Reflections on Medical Anthropology Theory. Medical Anthropology Theory, 1(1): 34-41

Street, Alice (2014). Food as Pharma: Marketing Nutraceuticals to India's Rural Poor. Critical Public Health, 2014. 

Street, Alice (2014). Biomedicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital. London, Durham: Duke University Press.

Street, Alice (2014). Introduction: Social Theory after Strathern (co-authored with Jacob Copeman). Theory, Culture and Society Special Issue, edited by Jacob Copeman and Alice Street, Vol 31(2/3): 7-38.

Street, Alice (2012) Seen by the state: bureaucracy, visibility and governmentality in a Papua New Guinean Hospital. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 23 (1). pp. 1-21. ISSN 1035-8811

Street, Alice and Coleman, Simon (2012) Introduction: Real and imagined spaces. Space and Culture, 15 (1). pp. 4-17. ISSN 1206-3312

Street, Alice (2012) Affective infrastructure: hospital landscapes of hope and failure. Space and Culture, 15 (1). pp. 44-56. ISSN 1206-3312

Street, Alice and Coleman, Simon, eds. (2012) Special Issue: Hospital Heterotopias: ethnographies of biomedical and non-biomedical spaces. Space and Culture, 15 (1). Sage. ISBN 1206-3312

Street, Alice (2011) Artefacts of not-knowing: the medical record, diagnosis and the production of uncertainty in Papua New Guinean Biomedicine. Social Studies of Science, 41 (6). pp. 815-834. ISSN 0306-3127

Pollard, Amy and Street, Alice (2010) Anthropology through development: Putting development theory into practice. Anthropology Matters, 12 (2).

Street, Alice (2010) Belief as Relational Action: Christianity and Cultural Change in Papua New Guinea. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 16 (2). pp. 260-278. ISSN 1359-0987

Cross, Jamie and Street, Alice (2009) Anthropology at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Anthropology Today, 25 (4). pp. 4-9.

Street, Alice (2009) Failed Recipients: Extracting Blood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital. Body and Society, 15 (2). pp. 193-215. ISSN 1357-034X 

Topics interested in supervising

I am interested in supervising students working in the areas of Melanesia, biomedicine, hospital ethnography, management knowledge, bureaucracy, anthropology of the state.

If you are interested in being supervised by Alice Street, please see the links below for more information:

PhD in Science and Technology Studies; PhD in Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Social Anthropology; MSc (R) Sociology and Anthropology of Health and Illness