Invite - Book launch and discussion | Synthesizing Hope: Matter, Knowledge, and Place in South African Drug Discovery | 9 May

Thursday, 9 May, 2019 - 11:30

The Department of Anthropology and WiSER invite you to a book launch and discussion

Matter, Knowledge, and Place in South African Drug Discovery


by Anne Pollock (Global Health and Social Medicine, King’s College London)



9th May 2019

11:30 – 1pm

Anthropology Museum ( next to CB 15, Ground Floor Robert Sobukwe Block)
East Campus, Wits University

Synthesizing Hope opens up the material and social world of pharmaceuticals by focusing on an unexpected place: iThemba Pharmaceuticals. Founded in 2009 with a name taken from the Zulu word for hope, the small South African startup with an elite international scientific board was tasked with drug discovery for tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. Anne Pollock uses this company as an entry point for exploring how the location of scientific knowledge production matters, not only for the raw materials, manufacture, licensing, and distribution of pharmaceuticals but also for the making of basic scientific knowledge.

Consideration of this case exposes the limitations of global health frameworks that implicitly posit rich countries as the only sites of knowledge production. Analysis of iThemba identifies the problems inherent in global north/south divides at the same time as it highlights what is at stake in who makes knowledge and where. It also provides a concrete example for consideration of the contexts and practices of postcolonial science, its constraints, and its promise.

Synthesizing Hope explores the many legacies that create conditions of possibility for South African drug discovery, especially the specific form of settler colonialism characterized by apartheid and resource extraction. Paying attention to the infrastructures and laboratory processes of drug discovery underscores the materiality of pharmaceuticals from the perspective of their makers, and tracing the intellectual and material infrastructures of South African drug discovery contributes new insights about larger social, political, and economic orders.



Chair and Opening Comments : Julia Hornberger (Department of Anthropology, Wits)


Discussants :      Glen Ncube (Historical and Heritage Studies, University of Pretoria)

                             Thembisa Waetjen (Historical Studies, University of Johannesburg)

                             Richard Rottenburg (WiSER, University of the Witwatersrand)


"Synthesizing Hope opens up a fascinating landscape of the challenges and possibilities of postcolonial science. Using iThemba Pharmaceuticals as her research site, Pollock opens up postcolonial knowledge construction in brilliant detail to reveal the myriad layers of power, capital, and global politics that shape the making of modern science. This is a sobering tale of ambition and failure, of faith and despair, reminding us that the histories of colonial science continue to haunt the future hope of lives in the Global South." Banu Subramaniam, University of Massachusetts Amherst


"This book shows us how pharmaceutical science both derives from and drives different forms of political, biomedical, and affective power. Moving seamlessly from molecules to macro-structures, the text troubles the distinction between economic and emotional investment in science. Pollock reveals how ‘hope’ is more than a feeling, but a practice that is synthesized in relation to scientific disciplines. It's a necessary read for everyone who cares about the future of global health and democratization of knowledge." Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University