Global Health and Conspiracy Theories

Date: 13 May 2011
Time: 12:30 - 13:45
Venue: Exhibition Area, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Sassoon Road

seminar posterGlobal Health and Conspiracy Theories by Didier Fassin (James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; fomer Vice President, Doctors without Borders; Visiting Research Professor, Centre for the Humanities and Medicine, HKU)

Global health is generally viewed from the perspective of biomedicine, focusing on the control of epidemics and environmental hazards, on the dissemination of public health models and professionals, on the implementation of programs and policies. Seen through the lenses of the social sciences, global health offers however a more complex and contrasted picture, with inequalities and tensions, controversies and dissidences. Conspiracy theories around health issues have a long history from the medieval plague and nineteenth century cholera in Europe to the recent contestation of the polio vaccines in Nigeria. The most dramatic episode in the past decades has concerned AIDS in the country which is the most severely affected worldwide: South Africa. Based on an ethnography conducted in the black townships as well as in the political arena, the lecture will propose an analysis of what is often thought to be not only irrational but also incomprehensible. The argument is that the study of counter-narratives can shed light on some of the crucial issues of contemporary societies. Conspiracy theories express social imaginaries and political anxieties that remain unspeakable or unheard.

About the Speaker:
Didier Fassin is the James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and until 2003, was vice president of Doctors without Borders. He has been appointed to a Visiting Research Professorship at the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine. Prof Fassin trained and practiced as a physician and holds a doctorate in anthropology. In his work he has developed an ethnographic approach to study critical public health issues within socio-cultural and political contexts. Among his books are When Bodies Remember: Experience and Politics of AIDS in South Africa (University of California Press, 2007) and The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood (with Richard Rechtman, Princeton University Press, 2009).

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