Medical anthropologist in Life Science - managing global e-waste

The relations between e-waste and exposure to toxins in Africa has received little research to date. Ruth Prince is part of AnthroTOX, an new interdisciplinary research group combining natural and social sciences to understand and manage global anthropogenic toxicants.

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Ruth Prince. Photo: Anbjørg Kolaas/UiO

What is your motivation for being part of AnthroTOX?

– As a medical anthropologist interested in global health and with long research experience in east Africa, I am interested in the relations between environmental toxins, global economic processes and health. In East Africa, the problem of waste management and international waste exports is becoming more pressing and visible, says Prince.

With regards to harmful chemicals, a lot is invisible, however, including the economic, social and political pathways along which some populations become exposed to poisonous substances.

The topic of environmental toxins invites new kinds of collaborative research between natural science and social science, and I am greatly looking forward to working together with the project team — Ruth Prince

How did you start collaboration with these researchers?

– As anthropologists working in Africa, Wenzel Geissler and I have had many conversations about environmental toxins in African countries and the lack of protection of African populations in the context of weak government and regulatory environments, says Prince.

In 2016, Wenzel Geissler made a research trip to Svalbaard where he met Katrine Borgå, who as an ecotoxicologist works on pathways of toxin distribution in Artic environments, and they began to talk about collaborating on a natural science/social science project on environmental toxins in the Artic and the Tropics.

– Katrine introduced us to Knut Breivik, an environmental chemist who has done fascinating research on toxins in Norway and on tracking the global distribution of organic pollutants linked to e-waste. Susanne Baer's work on science and policy making in relation to the Chernobyl disaster and her expertise on regulatory matters made her an obvious partner from TIK, explains Prince.

Supervision of six PhD students

AnthroTOX will produce four PhD students, two within ecotoxicology and two in social science, with co-supervision between the departments of BioSciences, Chemistry, Social Anthropology, the Institute of Health and Society, and the Centre for Innovation, Technology and Culture.  In addition the Faculty of Social Science and the Department of Anthropology has agreed to fund two further PhD students, bringing the total to six. They will be housed together at SAI, Blindern, and work together on a day-to-day basis.

The project team will collaborate in supervising the students, organizing PhD courses on the topic of environmental toxins, and organizing several scientific workshops focusing on this new field of collaboration between natural scientists and social scientists on the topic of environmental toxins, exposure, regulation, protection and public engagement. They will also develop further research projects on human-made toxins elsewhere in the world, and apply for funding.

Life Science

UiO:Life Science will finance seven convergence environments – interdisciplinary research groups that will solve grand challenges related to health and environment.

Rector Ole Pettesen has mentioned in his blog how the project is relevant to global health.

By Anbjørg Kolaas
Published June 6, 2017 12:44 PM - Last modified June 6, 2017 2:27 PM