Circle U. Global Health Chair

Eivind Engebretsen is appointed as Chair of Global Health at the European University Alliance Circle U, with the mission to explore the interface between global health and democracy. Here you can read his mission statement.

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Sustainable global health

Through socially engaged education and research activities, I intend to interrogate the global ambition that underpins the sustainable development paradigm in global health by exploring some of the core concepts on which the agenda is based, such as sustainability, well-being, equity, partnership, and empowerment. These and other key global health concepts have come to accommodate various and sometimes conflicting ideological messages, such as an urge for global solidarity and a requirement for self-management and improvement (Engebretsen, Heggen, Das, Farmer and Ottersen 2016).

The inherent paradoxes of such key concepts and the instability of their meaning allow them to be co-opted and made to serve goals that mask certain vulnerabilities and are at odds with the SDG vision of leaving no-one behind. Medical technologies and treatments are for instance often deemed as ‘unsustainable’ in those communities where the demand for treatment is greatest (Farmer 2015). An important obstacle hampering the successful uptake of the sustainability agenda, moreover, is that key concepts underpinning the SDGs are regarded as one size fits all, allowing the implementation process to be reduced to a delivery pipeline and hence leading to a democratic deficit (Engebretsen and Heggen 2015).

Grassroot discourses

I will counteract this democratic deficit by amplifying the voices of global health organisations and activist collectives situated outside (and at times in tension with) the mainstream institutions that set the sustainability agenda globally. To achieve this, I will include students, academic and non-academic partners in collaborative development and analysis of a large suite of open access electronic corpora of official and grassroots discourses on global health (the Oslo Medical Corpus) (Buts, Baker, Luz and Engebretsen 2021). I will also adapt and expand the concept of ‘hackathon’ to organise a range of highly interactive, interdisciplinary fora (conceived as ‘datathons’). Based on collaborative analyses of the corpora and discussion of conflicts and paradoxes of sustainability revealed through these analyses, participants will then be invited to propose strategies through which the SDGs and the accompanying indicator framework might be revised or extended to accommodate the priorities and world views of grassroots organisations, including those located in the Global South.

I will disseminate the findings of the empirical studies and the proposals put forward during the datathons through a range of activities, including the seminar series on Evidence and Democracy in Times of Crisis (already launched), and a PhD Summer School course based on the same topic.

A new European University

By 2025, Circle U. is an inclusive, research-intensive and interdisciplinary European university. Students, academic staff and partners from civil society, businesses and the public sector collaborate to jointly develop competencies and solutions for keeping Europe and our planet healthy, peaceful, democratic and prosperous.

The Academic Chairs will work together in networks (knowledge hubs) to carry out their individual missions. 


Oslo Team

Mona Baker, Affiliate Professor (Leader of the Oslo Medical Corpus), SHE

Kristin Heggen, Professor/Director, SHE

Tony Sandset, Researcher, SHE

Ida Lillehagen, Researcher, SHE

Gina Fraas Henrichsen, Researcher SHE

Hilde Vandeskog, PhD Researcher, SHE

Gabriela Saldanha, Affiliate Researcher, SHE

Circle U Partners

Antoinette Marie Farge-Butler, Associate Professor, University of Aarhus

Loni Kraus Ledderer, Associate Professor, University of Aarhus

Btihaj Ajana, Professor, King’s College

Irena Fiket, Associate Professor, University of Belgrade

Other Partners

Jan Buts, Boğaziçi University, Turkey

Henry Jones, University of Manchester, UK

Kyung Hye Kim, Shanghai International Studies University, China

Saturnino Luz, University of Edinburgh, UK

Maeve Olohan, University of Manchester, UK

Luis Pérez-González, University of Agder, Norway

Shane Sheehan, University of Edinburgh, UK


Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education (SHE)



Buts, J., M. Baker, S. Luz, and E. Engebretsen (2021) ‘Epistemologies of evidence-based medicine: A plea for corpus-based conceptual research in the medical humanities.’ Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, [OPEN ACCESS]

Engebretsen, E., Heggen, K., Das, S., Farmer, P., & Ottersen, O. P. (2016). Paradoxes of sustainability with consequences for health. The Lancet Global Health4(4), e225-e226.

Engebretsen, E., & Heggen, K. (2015). Powerful concepts in global health. International Journal of Health Policy and Management4(2), 115.

Farmer, P. (2015). Who live and who dies. London Review of Books, 37 (3-5)

Published Sep. 11, 2021 2:24 PM - Last modified Oct. 5, 2021 8:34 AM