Medical Anthropology Seminar Series 2017

James Fairhead from the University of Sussex gave the final talk of the Spring 2017 Medical Anthropology Seminar Series.  His talk, titled Understanding social resistance to Ebola response in the Forest Region of the Republic of Guinea: An anthropological perspective, continued exploring recent research themes of health practice resistance.

The talk focused on local resistance to international Ebola response efforts in a forest region of Guinea.  He shed light into the nature of cooperation and accommodation from the view of the Kissi people, arguing that international understandings of resistance to the Ebola response were falsely construed, and instead signalled a breakdown in accomodations.   By placing the Kissi in a larger history of structural violence, resistance to international Ebola response efforts is no longer a story of ‘culture clash’ and the incommensurability of other ontological worlds.  Rather, in considering a history of structural violence it becomes clear the ways in which Ebola response efforts crossed a ‘red’ line of accomodations.

Hospital health practices, national politics, sorcery, and the mining economy are all accomodations that broke down in response efforts.  For example, Ebola treatment centres undermined mortuary practices including ritual morning and the settlement of debts.  Moral discourse signalled a link between national politics and infected areas; Ebola never gained a foothold in pro-government regions, only regions of government opposition that were often economically neglected and termed immoral in their behaviours.  White Ebola response teams embodied many characteristics of sorcerers, and health centres denied post-mortem autopsy; an important aspect of burial rituals to determine if someone was a sorcerer.  And finally, many believed that Ebola was introduced into places of high mining interest, and served as a means of forcing people from valuable land.  Such breakdown in accomodations shows how structural violence is encoded in ritual practice, and the moral lines international Ebola response efforts crossed.

In considering accomodation as an analytical and ethnographic springboard James shows the ways in which culture is still a relevant category, and how in considering overarching concerns of structural violence culture still is still prominent.  His talk highlights several key questions for consideration: What does it mean to accommodate as opposed to tolerate? Does a ‘framework of accommodation’ adequately reveal the powers at play?  Is it possible that inequalities are in fact better revealed through understanding accommodation than they are in tension?

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