Skip to main content

Social Anthropology: Research


Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon is an AW Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow working with the Migration, Displacement and Health project at the African Centre for Migration & Society. Matthew completed his doctorate in Development Studies at the University of Oxford in 2011. The doctorate was a qualitative study focused on the sociality and sustainability of HIV/AIDS treatment in internally displaced communities in Northern Uganda. Matthew is presently undertaking ethnographic research on health, migration and illegally occupied buildings in inner-city Johannesburg. Matthew was born and grew up in Johannesburg, completed his BA Honours in Political Studies at Wits, is a recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, and has also worked as a freelance journalist.


Migration and Heath in South Africa: A Contested Biopolitical Terrain

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

This paper will focus on the contemporary biopolitics of migration and health in South Africa. It will argue that the relation between non-national migration and health in South Africa can be conceptualised as corporeal exposure to a political and juridical void, in which discretionary forms of governance operate. This void is the gap between the particularism of citizenship rights and the universalism of the Constitution. In this gap, healthcare policy and clinical practices operates by discretionary action at both executive levels and within health services. In developing this argument, I will engage with theoretical work focusing on the relation between health, biopolitics and humanitarian reason (cf. Nguyen, 2010, Biehl, 2007, Fassin, 2012). In doing so I will argue that migrant health in South Africa is not only a public health issue, but reveals a contested biopolitical and juridical terrain: the ill bodies of migrants are a means through which they seek recognition and welfare from the state, while at the same time they are denied juridical and social personhood (subject to constant police surveillance and the threat of deportation). Often migrants turn away from state health services and seek healthcare through emergency health actors, reordering biopolitical relationships along transnational lines. This paper will be primarily conceptual but will draw on empirical and policy studies by the Migration, Displacement and Health research programme at the African Centre for Migration & Society (in which I am based), along with ongoing ethnographic fieldwork by the author on migration and health in inner-city Johannesburg.


Edinburgh View