Hello from Tanzania!

Hi there! My name is Helen Elizabeth and I have just finished my second year of doctoral study in the Department of Geography. I’m spending the summer doing language study and pre-dissertation fieldwork in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, so I apologize in advance for the weird timing and potential internet pitfalls of my blogging attempts.

My interests range from qualitative methods, STS, critical development studies, economic geography, feminist geopolitics, medical anthropology, and nature-society theory. I’m particularly interested in the politics of knowledge production within the global health industry, specifically in the ways in which certain diseases, bodies and places come to be seen as ‘targets’ for intervention.

This interest is couched in contemporary theoretical work in the fields/disciplines listed above related to ontological and epistemological politics. I’m particularly interested in the growth of the global health industry in the wake of structural adjustment, and the ways in which investments in ‘human capital’ are increasingly expressed through differential forms of access to care and treatment. These questions of knowledge, politics and the state have been theorized by many as a ‘politics of life’ that comes to be expressed unevenly in historically specific ways through ‘differential health citizenship’ that is always articulated along multiple axes of difference.

While I intended to explore these questions through the case study of Sierra Leone’s post-conflict health development, the Ebola Outbreak and subsequent socio-political volatility in the region necessitated a move to a new field site.

Now, my doctoral research traces the discursive and material manifestations of global health knowledge(s) through the case of Tanzania’s Cervical Cancer Strategic Plan, which is a unique intersection of biomedical expertise, immense need, and emerging public-private-philanthropic partnerships. The CCSP is not unique as a physical manifestation of global health knowledge but the arrangement of actors that resulted in the creation of the CCSP speaks to an emergent development paradigm increasingly influenced by private capital. In addition, the notions of bodily value expressed in the language of the CCSP raise questions about the prioritization of certain bodies for cancer prevention at the expense of others in need of care. This, for me, is a question of ethics and of care that is often sidelined or silenced within the processes of global health knowledge production.

Anyways, that’s what I’m about and why I’m here in Tanzania this summer. In addition to practicing Swahili with the kids living in my compound, I plan to make the most of eating and adventuring in Dar this summer.

About Helen Elizabeth Olsen

I'm a doctoral student living in the New York area.
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4 Responses to Hello from Tanzania!

  1. marlene416 says:

    Sounds like an amazing summer and your research sounds incredible! How did you fund your trip to Tanzania? Did gradfund assist you?

  2. Liu Xin says:

    I have been to Kenya, a country bordering Tanzania attend a conference on medical equipment. It seems Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, these three Eastern African countries have formed a sort of free trade zone, at least in the scope of medical instrument.

  3. Helen Elizabeth Olsen says:

    Hi Marlene,

    Thanks! This is summer is going to be challenging but also rewarding. I was able to fund my summer research through multiple university specific awards from the Department of Geography, the Department of Human Ecology, the Center for African Studies and the Graduate School. Though GradFund did not assist me in funding this trip, I’m definitely planning on using their resources to apply for FLAS funding next year.


  4. Samantha Lee says:

    Thank you for sharing your research with us. It seems like a really exciting research and I look forward to learning more about it. Have a fantastic time in Tanzania.

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