Pathologies of Power

Paul Farmer's (2005) "Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor" is a "physician-anthropologist's effort to reveal the ways in which the most basic right – the right to survive – is trampled in an age of great affluence" (p. 6). However, Farmer covers much more than the right to survive, this book "is about the struggle for social and economic rights, the neglected stepchildren of the human rights movement. Because social and economic rights include the right to health care, housing, clean water, and education, they are sometimes called the "the rights of the poor."' (p. xxiv). It is highly recommended for academics and practitioners, and I also highly recommend Farmer's book Infections and Inequalities.

For those new to development studies, academics who assume development practitioners are non-reflexive positivists, and for practitioners looking to be more critical of the processes within international development, Farmer's books are essential reads. In the opening pages he sets the tone: "It was not the silence that rankled. It seemed to us that the exercise was demeaning – the participants, having survived genocide and displacement, were now being treated like children. They were being asked to respond to an agenda imported from capital cities, from do-gooder organizations like ours, from U.S. universities with the "right" answers to their every question. No harm done, perhaps, and the topic was important – but how helpful was this exercise, with its aim of changing the mentality of the locals, who were, after all, the victims of the previous decades of violence? A change in mentality was needed, certainly, but it was needed in the hearts and minds of those with power – and they were not here" (p. 3-4).

It is not just the 'others' with power; as a physician, Farmer writes that many "physicians are uncomfortable acknowledging these harsh facts of life and death. To do so, one must admit that the majority of premature deaths are, as the Haitians would say, "stupid deaths." They are completely preventable with the tools already available to the fortunate few" (p. 144). Yet, it is not simply more "development" that is required: "Developmentalism not only erases the historical creation of poverty but also implies that development is necessarily a linear process: progress will inevitably occur if the right steps are followed. Yet any critical assessment of the impact of such approaches must acknowledge their failure to help the poor" (p. 155)

Weaved throughout the book, Farmer expresses his concern with a changing set of norms and values: from rights, respect and dignity to costs and value for money. He writes: "many of the concepts currently in vogue in public health – from "cost-effectiveness" to "sustainability" and "replicability" - are likely to be perverted unless social justice remains central to public health and medicine. A human rights approach to health economics and health policy helps to bring into relief the ill effects of the efficacy-equity trade-off" (p. 18). This view is not just challenged as an opinion, but as an affront to the practice of health care: "the flabby moral relativism of our times would have us believe that we may now choose from a broad menu of approaches to delivering effective health care services to the poor. This is simply not true. Whether you are sitting in a clinic in rural Haiti, and this witness to stupid deaths from infection, or sitting in an emergency room in a U.S. city, and this the provider of first resort for forty million uninsured, you must acknowledge that the commodification of medicine invariably punishes the vulnerable" (p. 152). This book was published in 2005, and parts published earlier, and Farmer foresaw a challenge that has grown (while also shifting names from cost-effectiveness to value for money, to assessments of quality-adjusted life years, and as metrics in results and impact reporting): "As international health experts come under the sway of the bankers and their curiously bounded utilitarianism, we can expect more and more of our services to be declared "cost-ineffective" and more of our patients to be erased. In declaring health and health care to be a human right, we join forces with those who have long labored to protect the rights and dignity of the poor" (p. 159).

For those who work with marginalized and vulnerable people, who voices are excluded, it is challenging to convey experiences to others. In Farmer's earlier book Infections and Inequalities he used vignettes of people's lives as an attempt. In this end, however, "the experience of suffering, it's often noted, is not effectively conveyed by statistics or graphs. In fact, the suffering of the world's poor intrudes only rarely into the consciousness of the affluent, even when our affluence may be shown to have direct relation to their suffering. This is true even when spectacular human rights violations are at issue, and it is even more true when the topic at hand is the everyday violation of social and economic rights" (p. 31). It is both a depressing conclusion – the reality of a lack of concern – and a call to action. The systems that create and entrench poverty, as well as those that ignore suffering when plan to see, will continue lest things change, and change necessitates informed, critical engagement.

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Post-doc: Migration and the humanities (Harvard)

The Mahindra Humanities Center invites applications for one-year postdoctoral fellowships in connection with the Center's Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seminar on the topic of migration and the humanities.

Migration plays as critical a role in the moral imagination of the humanities as it does in shaping the activist vision of humanitarianism and human rights. Too often, the humanities are summoned merely as witnesses to the spectacle of the significant currents and crises of contemporary life. Literature and the arts are viewed as iconic presences whose primary aesthetic and moral values lie in their illustrative powers of empathy and evocation. Yet the intellectual formation of the humanities—their very conception of the nature of meaning, knowledge, and morals—is deeply resonant with the displacement of values and the revision of norms that shape the transitional and translational narratives of migrant lives.

Built around pedagogies of representation and interpretation—textual, visual, digital, political, ethical, ecological, etc.—the humanities engage with the history of shifting relations between cultural expression, historical transition, and political transformation. The ethics of citizenship in our time are defined as much by migration and resettlement as by indigenous belonging, as much by global governance as by national sovereignty. And the humanities play a central role in defining the terms and the territories of cultural citizenship as it creates innovative institutions and identities in the making of a civil society.

More details.

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Funded PhD: Human Rights

​The Department of Anthropology at UCL is seeking applications for an MPhil/PhD candidate fully funded by The Sigrid Rausing Trust, to commence in the academic session 2017/18. The Sigrid Rausing Trust is a UK grant-making foundation, founded in 1995 by Sigrid Rausing to support human rights globally.

In conjunction with potential supervisors, the successful applicant will be expected to propose research in any area directly relevant to human rights issues. It is expected that the candidate will upgrade from MPhil to PhD after 9 months and that fieldwork will be conducted over a 12-15 month period. The final thesis will be submitted within 4 years of initial registration. Funding will cover UCL fees (up to UK fee cost) and provide a stipend for 3 years (paid at the RCUK rate, which is currently £16,296 per annum).

Enquiries may be addressed to Dr Allen Abramson (Graduate Tutor) or Prof. Susanne Kuechler (Head of Department) at Person Specification Candidates will be considered for the post on the basis of the criteria outlined below:

  • First Class Bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline AND/OR Distinction at Masters level in a relevant discipline, with at least one of the degrees being in Anthropology.
  • Strong familiarity with issues pertaining to human rights
  • Experience of and ability to carry out fieldwork
  • Relevant linguistic skills or ability to acquire
How to apply: Please email your application in pdf format to Martin O'Connor who is the Departmental Manager for UCL Anthropology. Please include a full CV (up to 2 pages) and a piece of work (c. 5,000 words) from your masters or a related dissertation, along with a statement (c. 750 words) describing how you are qualified and prepared for the position and how you would approach the proposed area of research. Please arrange for TWO academic referees to write confidentially to Martin O'Connor, to be received no later than the closing date. References should be emailed. The successful candidate will be required to complete a UCL research student application on-line (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply/research/how-toapply) in order to enrol at UCL and be formally registered to receive the studentship.
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Postdoc: Migration & the Humanities (Harvard)

The Mahindra Humanities Center invites applications for one-year postdoctoral fellowships in connection with the Center's Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seminar on the topic of migration and the humanities.

The current refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East has made it clear that migration plays as critical a role in the moral imagination of the humanities as it does in shaping the activist vision of humanitarianism and human rights. The conceptual framework of the humanities is particularly relevant to interpreting and analyzing the cultural and political lifeworlds of the migrant experience. Too often, the humanities are summoned merely as witnesses to the spectacle of the significant currents and crises of contemporary life. Literature and the arts are viewed as iconic presences whose primary aesthetic and moral values lie in their illustrative powers of empathy and evocation. Yet the intellectual formation of the humanities—their very conception of the nature of meaning, knowledge, and morals—is deeply resonant with the displacement of values and the revision of norms that shape the transitional and translational narratives of migrant lives.

Built around pedagogies of representation and interpretation—textual, visual, digital, political, ethical, ecological, etc.—the humanities engage with the "deep" history of shifting relations between cultural expression, historical transition, and political transformation. They play a mediating role in this three-way process. Humanistic disciplines articulate the changing, contingent relationships between cultural meaning and social value as they shape "agents"—individual, collective, institutional—who participate in the creation of public opinion and the definition of public interest. Although they are not activist in a traditional sense, the humanities are actively involved in studying the impact of the displacement of cultural values and trajectories of knowledge-systems as they migrate from one historical context to another, moving across discursive and geographic territories, and establishing hybrid disciplinary borders.

Terms and Conditions

In addition to pursuing their own research projects, fellows will be core participants in the bi-weekly seminar meetings. Other participants will include faculty and graduate students from Harvard and other universities in the region, and occasional visiting speakers. Fellows will be joined at the Center by postdoctoral fellows from Germany, who will be coming as part of a collaboration between the Mahindra Humanities Center and the Volkswagen Foundation. Fellows are expected to be in residence at Harvard for the term of the fellowship. Fellows will receive stipends of $65,000, individual medical insurance, moving assistance of $1,500, and additional research support of $2,500.

More details.

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Logan Cochrane

logan.cochrane@gmail.com

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