[URBANTH-L]CFP: Diaspora and Disease

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Tue Dec 28 16:12:48 EST 2004

Call for Papers

Diaspora and Disease
A Conference
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London
March 31-April 1 2005

In September 2003, the Department of Anthropology at SOAS launched a new MA in
Migration and Diaspora Studies. The department already has a well established MA
in Medical Anthropology.  The department intends to host a conference in April
2005 with the University of Edinburgh, which will highlight, and explore, issues
relating to the transnational circuits of people and associated medical

The aim of this conference is to bring about discussion between those conducting
research in Diaspora Studies and the Anthropology of Public Health and Medicine.
The movement of people has long been associated with the spread of disease and
infections. In light of this, we are concerned with the role of medical
knowledge and practices in relation to Diaspora communities, and how these
discourses have contributed to the perception of diaspora populations by host
society, and helped shape wider questions of belonging and citizenship. We aim
to look at these questions in their historical context, both in their
continuities and discontinuities, emphasising the importance of this to an
understanding of current practices. Circuits of migration, and connected medical
practices are taking new forms, where, on the one hand migrants are still
associated with disease and pollution, but migrants are also increasingly
staffing the infrastructure of western public health services. At the same time,
the west can no longer lay claim to ‘superior’ biomedical provision. These
shifts signal new directions in the relationship between medical discourse and
diasporic ‘others’, giving rise to a contradictory language of migrants being
seen as both a threat, and a solution to the ‘health of the nation’.

Themes to be developed could include the following:

1.	Plague, contamination and international migration

Historically, international migration has been associated with the transport of
disease. Regardless of the evidence, metaphors of plague, and infection have
circulated and been used to marginalise and keep out diaspora communities in
host countries in an effort to ‘exclude filth’. Migrants have been referred to
in terms such as the ‘Asiatic menace’ indicating a virus-like threat to local
populations. What impact do the traces of these images have on current host
nation’s perceptions of diaspora communities? What impact does this have on the
diasporic communities’ self-perceptions, if any? Does this also impact on
conceptions of belonging, or feed into continuing dialogues of displacement?

2.	Homeland and healthcare

How has the globalisation of health care services ‘infected’ imaginings of home?
Where the west was once a place that many people travelled to, to receive
‘reliable’ health care, under the impact of globalisation significant changes
have begun to emerge. With the increasing availability of high standard health
care in many parts of the non-western world, many diaspora communities are going
‘home’ for treatment. This has turned several stereotypes upside down. For
example, India, once ‘imagined’ as the site of holistic health related
practices, where mind and body merge, is now also a sophisticated centre of
cheap and efficient biomedical treatment. How has this affected the relationship
between NRIs and their homeland?

3.	Infection and the source of disease.

Using tuberculosis as an example, outbreaks of this disease in the ‘west’ have
by some public health discourses been represented as a consequence of repeated
visits of diaspora to their homeland. Such an articulation has become possible
with the advance of medical science. For example, recent advances in genetic
fingerprinting techniques tracing the causative organisms through individual
bodies, have been able to ‘locate’ the source of infection. Re-exposed to
tuberculosis in their homeland, they consequently become more at risk of
developing the disease and bringing it back with them. How have recent advances
in biomedical science fed into, and challenged, fears of this kind? In what ways
have emergent scientific ‘truths’ been appropriated for political ends in host

4.	Movement of medical staff

Once trained in hygienic stations of Empire, and then sent ‘home’ to administer
public health, now health workers who are trained in the homeland work elsewhere
in growing numbers. In the current economic and political climate, health
personnel trained in the ‘third world’ fill the gaps in increasingly fragile
public health infrastructures in the ‘west/north’. Caught in webs of
exploitation but also frequently better remuneration, how has this specialised
movement of medical labour impacted on the formation of diaspora? How are these
movements of health workers brokered and managed? 

5.	Assimilation and accessing health resources

In medical discourse, one particular concern with diaspora has been articulated
around lack of access to, and underutilisation of, medical services in host
nations. What are considered to be the ‘barriers’ (linguistic, cultural,
structural etc.) to these resources have frequently framed research agendas,
within resource distribution focused on ‘ethnic minorities’. How are discourses
of assimilation into host nation society linked to these concerns around
accessing health services? How does the relationship between a biomedical
humanism and a tolerance to difference play out in these fields of contemporary
knowledge / practice? 

The conference will be held at SOAS. It is intended that a selection of papers
will form the basis of a special edition of a journal focused on diaspora
studies, and an edited volume. Abstracts of 300 words should be sent to Paru
Raman (pr1 at soas.ac.uk) by September 30th 2004.

Dr Parvathi Raman
Dr Christopher Davis 
Dr Ian Harper

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