Public health is widely understood to be both inherently political and easily politicized, yet few studies have examined how global health interventions actively, if unintentionally, co-constitute local political systems and practices of governance in the developing world. Three examples from rural Malawi offer insight into how health promotion campaigns in the areas of sanitation, reproductive health, and immunization have helped to make and expand local structures of authority from village heads to police. The consequences of these intersections are explored with respect to key normative development constructs including community participation, human rights, and women’s empowerment. Ms. West’s talk draws on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork with community outreach workers and rural households in Malawi, as well as archival research on colonial public health and the development of the national health system in the early post-independence period.
Anna West is a 2013-14 pre-doctoral fellow at CDDRL and a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford. Her dissertation research in Malawi examines how modular global health interventions engage local power structures, patronage systems, and political cultures. Anna combines ethnographic fieldwork and archival research on encounters between government outreach workers, village heads, and rural households to trace the salience of health promotion strategies for the formation and consolidation of ideas, values, and processes of governance and democracy in Malawi. Her work focuses in particular on traditional authorities' involvement in rural health promotion and the significance of chiefly governance for local and national discourse on community participation, human rights, and citizenship. Anna's research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, a U.S. State Department FLAS Fellowship, and Stanford's Center for African Studies.