PhD candidate , Cornell University
Contributor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
Rebekah is a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Department at Cornell University, with foci in medical anthropology, science and technology studies, and African studies. She is writing her dissertation on the emergent prioritization of sickle cell disease and the production of genetic temporalities in post-socialist Tanzania.
Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
Editor’s note: This post is the fourth in our five-part series “COVID-19: Views from the Field.” Click here to read an introduction written by series organizer Rebekah Ciribassi. I have been living in Tanzania since March of 2018, conducting ethnographic fieldwork with Tanzanian families that have a genetically-inherited blood disorder called sickle cell disease. My interest in studying the socio-political life of this particular diagnosis in this particular place started in 2012, when I learned of a Pan-African bioscience movement, sited partly in Tanzania, to prioritize sickle cell disease research and care across the continent. I became curious about what it might mean anthropologically to shift the timescales of global health intervention from the immediacy of more traditionally-prioritized communicable diseases like HIV and malaria, toward the intergenerational transmission of a genetic condition. Almost two years of interviews and observation with families, activists, and healthcare providers had me thinking about the constitution of longue durée bodily time through genetic technologies. And then the pandemic started. By the time the first official case of COVID-19 was announced in Tanzania on March 16th, I had already stopped in-person interviews and travel for research. Although no one was quite sure the extent of the spread, I was wary of becoming a vector for the virus among my friends and interlocutors, many of whom are either immunocompromised from sickle cell disease or are much-needed healthcare workers in local hospitals. But even beyond the biological risk, there was something else keeping me from fieldwork: the pandemic (more...)
COVID-19, or the vernacular “coronavirus,” hardly needs an introduction. By the time of this writing, there are over 1.2 million active cases spread across nearly every country worldwide. There is hardly an area of daily life that remains unchanged by the new and unfamiliar terms of coping and coexisting with a pandemic. Social relations are disrupted, mobilities once taken for granted are halted, forms of connectedness have suddenly become threatening. Social scientists have been quick to respond; our expertise enables us to contextualize novel, emergent events with theoretical insights from mundane life. Much of the focus has been on the indeterminacy of the present moment, and the uncertainties of pandemic life. Academics, of course, have not been immune to those interruptions and uncertainties. For ethnographers actively conducting fieldwork especially, the cutting off of social interaction forces a renegotiation of their place in “the field.” Some of us find ourselves sheltering in field sites where borders have already been closed, leaving us in the liminal position of suspended research in place. For others for whom “the field” and “home” are layered in a single space, pandemic life can entail new and shifting boundaries between personal, everyday life and ongoing research. Regardless, in-field ethnographic researchers offer diverse perspectives on COVID-19 from geographic and social spaces that are rarely accessible through journalistic takes, while forcing a rethinking of the actual practice of social scientific research within a global crisis. Over five weeks in April and May, Platypus will release a piece each Thursday (more...)