Synthesising Hope: Global Health, Postcolonial Science, and South African Drug Discovery

Thursday, 30 July, 2015 - 14:30

Synthesising Hope: Global Health, Postcolonial Science, and South African Drug Discovery

An opportunity to discuss a book manuscript in progress with its author: Anne Pollock, Associate Professor of Science, Technology & Society, Georgia Tech.

“I think that it is important that people who are being affected are the ones who are doing the research,” a young drug discovery scientist told me in an interview in a small conference room at her pharmaceutical company in the outskirts of Johannesburg. “Because if you have seen someone suffer, you make all the effort to ensure that whatever you are doing gets out and ordinary people can benefit from it.  You clearly understand the importance of doing it.  Even people from other countries, they still understand, but the fact that it is affected you, you feel the strong need of intervention, the strong need of finding something that will be helpful and will be accessed in a cheaper way.”  I asked whether she had felt the impact of the diseases that her company focuses on: malaria, TB, and HIV.  She answered: “Not malaria, but HIV, yes, absolutely.  There are many people who have died of HIV and TB who are very close to us.  Especially HIV.  They always say that if you are not infected, you are affected.”

Synthesizing Hope draws on ethnographic research at iThemba Pharmaceuticals, a small South African startup pharmaceutical company with an elite international scientific board, which was founded with the mission of drug discovery for TB, HIV, and malaria.  The book also follows the company’s global networks.  This particular place provides an entry point for exploring how the location of the scientific knowledge component of pharmaceuticals – rather than their raw materials, production, licensing, or distribution – matters.  I explore why it matters for those interested in global health and postcolonial science, and why it matters for the scientists themselves.  Consideration of this case illuminates the limitations of global health frameworks that implicitly posit rich countries as the unique site of knowledge production, and thus as the source of unidirectional knowledge flows.  It also provides a concrete example for consideration of the contexts and practices of postcolonial science, its constraints and its promise.  Analysis of iThemba problematizes global north/south divides, illustrating ways in which the worlds of scientists are not so neatly bifurcated, at the same time that it highlights how much is at stake in who makes knowledge and where. 

Biography: Anne Pollock in an associate professor of science, technology and culture at Georgia Tech. She completed her PhD in History and Social Study of Science and Technology at MIT. Pollock has written extensively on the racial complications of American biotechnologies, particularly pharmaceuticals and kidney donation. She is well known for her book – “Medicating Race: Heart disease and durable preoccupations with difference”. Pollock has also produced ethnographic work on a pharmaceutical laboratory in post-apartheid South Africa – including discussion of the relationship between national hope and scientific endeavour. 

This seminar forms part of WiSER’s Medical Humanities programme.

Refreshments will be served

TIME: 3-4:30pm
DATE: 29 July 2015
VENUE: WiSER, 6th floor, Richard Ward Building, East Campus


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