Critical Perspectives on Global Health

A graduate level Anthropology course places present-day developments in historical perspective.

October 8, 2020

As the world grapples with the effects of climate change and struggles to contain the coronavirus, there’s never been a better time delve into questions of global health—which is just what Prof. Betsey Brada has in mind for Anthropology 541, Global Health: Critical Perspectives. This graduate-level course is one of the many unique courses that make up Reed’s interdisciplinary Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program. And it’s one of the many courses we’d love to take. 

“Global health,” asserted a recent letter to the journal Lancet, “will never be the same after COVID-19—it cannot be. The pandemic has given the lie to the notion that expertise is concentrated in, or at least best channeled by, legacy powers and historically rich states.”

Prof. Brada’s course examines contemporary global health from an interdisciplinary perspective. It proceeds from the assertion that global health, rather than the distribution of health services across the world, is an intersection of social, biological, and geopolitical relationships that the COVID-19 pandemic both reflects and may radically transform. The course delves first into history, identifying the main actors, institutions, practices, and forms of knowledge that have defined global health over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Turning to anthropological perspectives, students will examine the social, political, and economic factors that shape patterns of suffering and disease across societies as well as the efforts taken to ameliorate them, placing present-day developments in historical perspective.

There are unexpected consequences of global health programs for patients and professionals alike, and the course will examine these, as well as the limits of global health with regard to noncommunicable diseases and ecological concerns that fall outside global health’s enduring focus on infectious disease. Throughout the course COVID-19 will remain squarely in students' sights. Key topics include the management of epidemic diseases; tensions between clinical research and access to treatment; the rise of transnational humanitarianism; and the intersection of zoonotic diseases and climate change.

Prof. Brada is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in health and medicine in southern Africa. She teaches and researches on topics in medical anthropology, the anthropology of pedagogy and expertise, and the ethnography and history of Africa, all drawing from her extensive field work in the region. 

Readings include:

  • Crane, Johanna (2013) Scrambling for Africa: AIDS, Expertise, and the Rise of American Global Health Science. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 
  • Keck, Frédéric (2020) Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Packard, Randall (2016) A History of Global Health: Interventions into the Lives of Other Peoples. Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  • Renne, Elisha (2010) The Politics of Polio in Northern Nigeria. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Tags: Academics, Courses We’d Love To Take