Who Cares? A Discussion on Care from Edinburgh’s Centre for Medical Anthropology

On 11th May 2016 the Students of Medical Anthropology (SoMA) at University of Edinburgh, the student group within Edinburgh’s Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA) held their inaugural event, a symposium entitled ‘Who Cares?’

As early career scholars in medical anthropology working across a variety of health-related contexts, we (SoMA) realised that care as a theme was present in all our work. This prevalence pointed to the anthropological significance of the concept and spurred discussions about ‘how care is different’ within and across our fields. However, it also highlighted that the concept of ‘care’ seemed to lack clarity and definable parameters within larger anthropological discussions. These concerns inspired  SoMA’s first student-led symposium.  Reflecting on some ideas within the published debate on ‘Care in Practice,’ within this symposium, we similarly “…sought to ask a how-question: how is “care” being done? Which modes and modalities of “caring” may we trace in various practices? How can each of these, different as they are, shed light on and help to specify the others” (Mol 2010: 84). We sought to do this by focusing on fieldwork experiences and considering how people within our sites are using the term care, and importantly, how they are performing care and for which reasons.

But why should anthropologists care about care? What does the term offer? What do we really know about care and caregivers? In answer, these papers are presentations of our understandings of care within our fields and statements arguing for the importance of examining care.  They also aimed to instigate collective discussion about care as a concept and its role within society to “shed light on and help to specify” its parameters. In our papers and in the discussions that followed, this symposium addressed the role of care in social relationships: how care shapes power and dependency; the extent and limits of care; the relationship between harm, violence, and care; and the question of care and morality.

With support and resources supplied by the EdCMA, the aim for this event was to build on the experiences of students of medical anthropology and to launch SoMA as a group, while creating a fruitful discussion on care among EdCMA colleagues and guests. The SoMA event organisers and speakers were: Bridget Bradley, Sandalia Genus, Lilian Kennedy and Hannah Lesshafft . A roundtable discussion with EdCMA members Alex Nading, Stefan Ecks, Lucy Lowe, Koreen Reece and Alice Street, and chaired by Hannah Lesshafft, explored the ways that care might be a useful theme in medical anthropology and beyond. What follows here are abridged versions of these original presentations, a discussion paper by Alice Street, and a summary of the conversations that stemmed from the roundtable.


Care and Community in Experiences of Trichotillomania

Bridget Bradley

What Does Care Do? Reflections on Care in Medical Research

Sandalia Genus

Who is the ‘Who’ in ‘Who Cares?’: Finding the Person in Dementia

Lilian Kennedy

Care as Self-care: Healing Practices in a Brazilian Candomblé House

Hannah Lesshafft

Discussant Notes

Alice Street

Discussion: Why should we care?

Bridget Bradley and Lilian Kennedy


Co-organised by: Bridget Bradley, Sandalia Genus, Lilian Kennedy, Hannah Lesshafft and Alice Street


Who we are

Students of Medical Anthropology (SoMA) at Edinburgh’s Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA)

As part of the Centre for Medical Anthropology at Edinburgh University, the research students of Medical Anthropology (SoMA) have established a group to organise student-led events and facilitate research collaboration. SoMA allows early-career scholars to develop their work in dialogue with fellow researchers in the growing field of medical anthropology.

Bridget Bradley is a third year PhD student of social anthropology at The University of Edinburgh. Her doctorate research focuses on the experiences of people living with body-focused repetitive behaviours (compulsive hair pulling and skin picking) in the United Kingdom and United States. Bridget is currently the student representative for SoMA, the Students of Medical Anthropology group associated with the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology (EdCMA).

Sandalia Genus is currently a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh.  From 2012 to 2015 she conducted 17 months of fieldwork among the various stakeholders of malaria control and malaria vaccine development in Tanzania and Belgium.  Her research examines the intersection of global health and international development, with a focus on medical research, medical technologies and global health interventions.

Lilian Kennedy is a social anthropologist PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her research investigates practices of care, kinship, memory, and subjectivity as they relate to dementia. Her research is based on fieldwork conducted in London, working with people with dementia and the family members who help care for them.

Hannah Lesshafft is a social anthropologist and medical doctor. Her PhD research on Candomblé healing practices is based on 12 months fieldwork in Northeast Brazil. She currently works as a research fellow and teaching fellow at the Edinburgh Medical School.

Alice Street is Senior Lecturer and Chancellors Fellow in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on the material politics of global health, with a focus on Papua New Guinea and South India. Her book, Biomedicine in an Unstable Place: Infrastructure and Personhood in a Papua New Guinean Hospital was published by Duke University Press in October, 2014.


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MAYS/SoMA Collaborative Conference, 15 -16 June 2017: ‘Medical Anthropology Beyond Academic Borders’


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