Global Health Colloquium featuring Peter Redfield - " After Utopia? Humanitarian Design and the Scale of the Future"

Fri, Feb 24, 2017,
12:00 pm to 1:30 pm

Global Health Colloquium

Peter Refield, Professor, Anthropology, UNC-Chapel Hill

My first research project focused on the European space program in French Guiana, comparing it to earlier French efforts to develop the region, especially the notorious penal colony known as Devil’s Island. Between 1990 and 1994 I worked in both French Guiana and France, combining ethnographic fieldwork with archival research; the results appeared as a book for the University of California Press in 2000. At its core the book addresses the greater ecology of modern technology, examining the reconfiguration of French Guiana’s social and natural landscape into a proper habitat for the assembly and launch of satellites into high orbit. My larger goal in writing it was to interrogate the success of a distinctly planetary system with a more local history, one rife with repeated colonial failure and unintended consequences.

My second major research project extended this concern for global projects, but shifted focus to non-state actors and a moving frontier of health crises, examining the nongovernmental organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Founded four decades ago as a French effort to establish a more engaged and oppositional form of medical humanitarianism, MSF has grown into a transnational institution, known both for excellent logistics and for outspoken independence. MSF missions now stretch well beyond emergency responses to humanitarian disaster to target specific diseases and structural inequities in global health, always struggling between twin goals of efficacy and advocacy. I conducted fieldwork both at MSF’s operational headquarters in Europe (especially sections in France, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland), and multiple project sites in Uganda.  The book appeared on the University of California Press in 2013. During this period I also collaborated with Erica Bornstein on an edited volume through the SAR Advanced Seminar series, and engaged in other collective work addressing humanitarianism.

My present work follows examples of science, technology and medicine beyond reliable infrastructure.  I am particularly interested in emerging forms of humanitarian design, and a varied array of efforts to produce innovative fixes and solutions in a box (examples range from nonprofit pharmaceutical production to minimalist life technologies related to food, shelter, water and sanitation). My goal is to consider the complicated ethics and politics of interventions that seek to do good by saving lives, particularly as they relate to past utopian projects of social welfare and justice.


Lunch will be served beginning at 11:45am

Organized by the Global Health Program.
Co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School's Center for Health & Wellbeing and the Department of Anthropology.

Location: 
Bowl 16, Robertson Hall
Audience: 
Free & open to the public

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