Translation, Metrics and Global Health

Guest lecture with Professor Ian Whitmarsh and PhD(c) Ryan Whitacre from the University of California, Berkeley. They will explore how metrics can be seen as part of a standardization of the medical world, i.e. epidemiology, measurements - and ultimately even subjectivities.

Map of the world

What are the global concerns versus local needs in relation to metrics of the medical world? Illustration: Colourbox


Metrics will be seen as being part of a process of knowledge translation and of the transfer of medical knowledge from one site to another. By exploring this topic, the lecture will engage with issues such as universal knowledge versus local, global concerns versus local needs, and with issues of fidelity and corruption in terms of data.

  • Professor Ian Whitmarsh: “Protestant BMI: Global Health, the Presbyterian, and Teaching the Want to be Healthy."
  • PhD(c) Ryan Whitacre: “HIV and innovations in HIV treatment and prevention."


The guest lecture is open for everyone interested in the topic. There is no participant fee, but please register so we know how many will attend.

Professor Ian Whitmarsh

Professor Whitmarsh is Professor of Medical Anthropology and Director of the Medical Anthropology Ph.D. Program. His research explores tensions in structural, religious, and psychoanalytic logics in new forms of care. Over the past decade he has carried out research in the Caribbean on the transnational science of genomic research on the African diaspora; asthma as a modern condition in its ambiguity; and pleasures and dangers construed around diabetes and violence. These projects focus on biomedical links made between desire and suffering and the ethics and aesthetics of being healthy.

His talk will circle along the following abstract:

Today, we are told, obesity is a pandemic. Contemporary science and policy of obesity directly criticizes the model of an individualized subject of free choice held accountable for their body weight, diet, or illness. Instead, a new British and American expertise focuses on factors outside the individual’s control, including biological predispositions, cultural traditions, psychological pathologies, and socioeconomic context. This transition is often told as a salutary secularization—the moral associations that religious values confer are overcome by properly seeing the systemic causes of fat and poor health.

Drawing on ethnographic research from Trinidad to the US and back, I argue here that this finding the people unable to choose is itself part of an AngloAmerican Protestant heritage. The lack of choice posited in this science and policy retains the central Protestant metric of volition introduce in 19th century health reform, along with the twin figures this metric begets: the learned subject joined in communitas around a healthy ethics and aesthetics; and the “involuntary poor,” caught in deleterious diet and bodily ideals and parenting practices. 

In Trinidad, as in other countries, global health ventures increasingly work with Presbyterian and other churches to disseminate biomedical techniques of blood tests, pharmaceutical compliance, and teaching proper choice in diet and body size.  Through these global health endeavors, the numbers used to diagnose and intervene on chronic disease among the populace—cholesterol, Body Mass Index, blood sugar—come to instantiate the Protestant configuration of health, fat, and the paradox of volition.

Ryan Whitacre

Ryan Whitacre, PhD(c) will focus on HIV and innovations in HIV treatment and prevention. His research includes working through a school of thought in medical anthropology, which bridges political economic critique, discursive analysis, and moral philosophy to comprehend the human subject within the conditions of contemporary life, especially in relation to health and care. His research examines the intimacy of the human subject, and explores how the intimate subject fits within political, economic, and moral institutions. In particular, he examines the relationship between the ‘intimate subject’ and systems of ‘innovation’ in drug markets, including pharmaceutical research and development, corporate mergers and acquisitions, and property regimes.

His talk will circle around the following lines and thoughts in regards to the topic at hand: the role of the human subject in public health and clinical research for HIV prevention, and identifies two practices through which the subject offers a truth about the self, which makes such research possible.

The first practice involves talking about one’s own HIV status, and extends out to include speaking about other aspects of one’s intimate life, such as about one’s intimate partners, relationship dynamics, and sex. The second practice involves submitting to a test of one’s own HIV status, and primarily includes revealing one’s own biological information.

Each of these ways of disclosing a truth about one’s self is a basic practice for the intimate subject to know him or her self and a fundamental component of HIV prevention. Each of these ways of disclosing is also solicited through a series of techniques in law, ethics, or science, and intended to uncover the truth about the subject’s intimate life. In fact, techniques for soliciting truth have been essential for public health research about HIV prevention since the early years of the AIDS epidemic, and have directly influenced the development of the latest innovations in the field, such as in the development of Truvada for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Published Sep. 29, 2017 2:35 PM - Last modified Oct. 4, 2017 11:24 AM