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Cancelled - Senior Research Seminar: Dr Alice Street

When Nov 10, 2017
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridged
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Dr Alice Street (University of Edinburgh)

Where the health system ends: relational infrastructures at a Papua New Guinean health centre

This paper asks what kinds of relationships the health “system” as a site of inquiry make visible or conceals. In Papua New Guinea, a growing focus by international organisations, government officials and social scientists on health systems strengthening has revealed a multitude of challenges, including a lack of rural supervision, an erratic medical supply system, and an untrustworthy health information system. Yet the landscape of health system failure is painted from the vantage of central government, which is unable to reach remote populations on the hazy horizon. What, this paper asks, does the health system look like from the periphery? Drawing on ethnographic material from rural health facilities in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, it examines the material exchanges and everyday work involved in keeping a rural health facility open with little support from state or para-state organisations. Health systems strengthening activities tend to focus on the logistical challenges of maintaining connections between central and peripheral sites. I argue that the relationships that sustain rural health infrastructures do not necessarily take a ‘connective’ form. I propose ‘relational infrastructure’ as a productive concept for rethinking health systems in terms of the contingent, historical relationships on which they depend.

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