Author Archives: Rudo Kemper

Renowned King’s College London Medical Sociologist Visits Carolina

Nikolas Rose

Nikolas Rose, professor of sociology and head of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London, visited Carolina for a week in April to deliver a lecture, meet with faculty, staff and students to discuss his areas of scholarship and to explore collaborations.

A strategic alliance was formally established by UNC and King’s in 2006, initiated between UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and King’s School of Arts and Humanities and School of Social Science and Public Policy. The alliance continues to grow and include additional schools and disciplines campus-wide on both sides, including joint activity in the medical humanities.

As head of the newly established social medicine department at King’s, Rose has been developing an interdisciplinary department, bringing together some of the world’s leading experts in areas including anthropology, bioethics, gerontology, global health and medical sociology.

“Among our early reasons for inviting Professor Rose to campus was the simple fact that so many of us have found his work from the last decade on ‘biopolitics’ to be so important to our own thinking,” says Barry Saunders, associate professor of social medicine in the UNC School of Medicine.

Saunders introduced Rose at a public lecture delivered during his visit. Rose presented “A New Sociology for a New Century? Revitalising the Human Sciences” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Friday, April 26, addressing the emerging relations between the biological sciences, those sciences of “life itself” and the human and social sciences. The lecture was sponsored by the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, UNC Department of Social Medicine, College of Arts & Sciences Interdisciplinary Initiatives and the Center for Bioethics.

Saunders notes that Rose’s work on biomedicalization and biosocialities has influenced courses at the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Honors Program Interdisciplinary Minor in Medicine, Literature and Culture.

Rose originally trained as a biologist before transitioning to psychology and then to sociology. After 10 years at Goldsmiths College, where he was head of sociology and pro-warden for research, he joined the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2002 and was convener of the Department of Sociology from 2002 to 2006 and Martin White Professor of Sociology. He founded the BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at LSE, and was its director since its inception in 2003.

Rose has published widely on the social and political history of the human sciences, on the genealogy of subjectivity, on the history of empirical thought in sociology, on law and criminology and on changing rationalities and techniques of political power.

“He has had an extraordinarily interesting career moving across the disciplines: from undergraduate studies that combined biology, including close work at laboratory benches and on animal bodies, with animal behavior and human psychology,” says Saunders. “From there he moved through an extensive and distinctive arc of engagements as a sociologist that produced a body of writing that most of us have only engaged a few parts of.”

Rose has published widely on the structures of governmental power and the use of bioscientific methods and expertise to shape the politics of “life itself.”

His most recent book, Neuro (Princeton University Press, 2013,with coauthor Joelle Abi-Rached), examines the ways neurobiological conceptions of personhood are influencing everything from child rearing to criminal justice, and are transforming the ways we “know ourselves” as human beings.

“The [book] has a forward-looking and even hopeful cast, a concern with emergence– our emergence: with forms of human that we are becoming,” notes Saunders.

Article reposted from UNC Global (link to original).

Sarah Sexton: “Promotion of Health Access in Peru’s Sacred Valley”


As I placed my feet onto the red-eye flight to Lima, Peru I instantly felt a rush of emotions that had been building up in my stubborn self for several months. From the discussions of packing to the safety concerns from my family, it was not until my long flight that I started to consider what I had gotten myself into. The next 24 hours of travel that involved several plane transfers, unsafe cars, donkeys, and wagons proved to become a microcosm of the adventures I had voluntarily placed myself in for the next few months.

As a health education coordinator working for Sacred Valley Health in Ollantaytambo, Peru, it was my responsibility to develop and train community health workers (promotoras) in 7 surrounding communities. With little knowledge about the communities, I found my first day hiking 8 hours with a Peruvian nurse to quickly learn about my main areas of focus. Let me say that hiking over 14,000 ft. passes and extreme conversation barriers leaves a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to complain about your aching legs. In fact, the majority of my time in Peru was spent in solitude trekking across the mountains, riding donkeys across the passes, or more commonly hitchhiking in the back of an animal truck just praying to get back to my village. Everyday I left my home in Ollantaytambo, never knowing what danger I may face, or if I would make it down the mountain alone. If I wasn’t hiking or up working in one of my communities, my time was spent in my own village. This often included hour-long meals eating guinea pig, being chased by rabid dogs, or more simply just living out underneath the beauty of the stars. With zero electricity, I didn’t have any modern conveniences such as a hot shower, running toilet, or even a normal sleeping arrangement for several months. Despite the hardships that I faced, these were the three best months of my life, and I am yearning for the moment that I can return.

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Bobby Nieland: “Life and death”

I believe that my personal discovery of the field of medical anthropology, though occurring relatively late in my time at university, has nonetheless been one of the most influential aspects of the liberal arts education that I attained at UNC. And though the readings from my med anth classes reached far and wide in content, one text in particular from a class with Professor Rivkin-Fish continues to stand out with rippling effects in my life: …And a Time to Die. How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life by Sharon Kaufman.

Kaufman’s book grapples with a topic that is by its very nature innumerable shades of grey in every respect. How do we think about death? How do we think about others’, our own, as a concept, or as an acute reality? How are specific ways of dying created and promoted in the American hospital setting? What sociocultural, political, and economic factors play into creating these paths and guiding (or forcing) people along them? How much of the decision process do you want responsibility for, or do you think you should be responsible for, in another’s death? In your own? How do you want to die? When? Where? Why do people think they can ultimately have a real choice when it comes to these questions? I hadn’t honestly thought in depth about many of these ideas before coming in contact with Kaufman’s book. My major take away from the text: death is an invaluable discussion to have with friends and family during life and any time is the right time. In respect to life and death, I personally believe that ignoring the inevitability of the later can truly detriment one’s experience of the former.

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Kelsey Ludwig: “It’s like wearing new glasses”


I took my first medical anthropology course during the spring semester of my freshman year.  I realized I was hooked to the field in the middle of a lecture in Professor Rivkin-Fish’s Comparative Healing Systems class.  As I recall, we were discussing an anthropological explanation of the transition from the era of midwifery prevalence to the rise of obstetrics and gynecology as a male-dominated, biomedical “profession.”  Previously, I had been drawn to the natural sciences and their steadfast faith in the scientific-method, evidence-based research and the like.  Fortunately, my first medical anthropology class – and the many that ensued – opened my eyes and my mind to the extremely complex nature of human beings and the way the world works in general.  Though we may like to view the world as regimented, consistent and predictable; this is rarely the case.  I continued to learn this lesson throughout my college career and have carried it with me into what many call “the real world.”

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Hannah Friedman: “Flailing with Dignity: How the Medical Anthropological Lens Allowed Me to Interpret and Cope with My Grandmother’s Death”


In October my grandmother died. I’m still not sure what to say Meme died from – she had early onset Alzheimer’s, but her technical cause of death was “failure to thrive.”

Meme was my mother’s mother. My mom spent the last few years of Meme’s life making frequent trips to upstate New York, where Meme lived in a retirement community not far from her home. Last summer, it became clear that it was best for her to move down to an elderly care community in Durham, North Carolina, where my parents live. In Meme’s final weeks, she moved in with my parents. There, my mother, father, and sister Jess took care of her. My mother has a background in community health and social work, my father is a primary care physician, and Jess is in medical school at Duke. Jess’ twin, Kait, and I visited from Philadelphia and New York City, respectively.

It is difficult for me to try to point out exclusive instances when my coursework in medical anthropology affected my experience of Meme’s death, because medical anthropology was the lens through which I experienced absolutely everything. Without this lens, I imagine I would have seen the process of Meme’s death as generally predetermined: this is just the way death happens. Yet medical anthropology taught me to look at each health narrative as distinctly subjective, complex, and unique. Readings and class discussions on dignity, the language of disease, patient agency, moral economies of health, and the politics of end-of-life care suddenly became very real, and even more complicated than I had imagined. Every tiny decision and interaction was a critical opportunity to explore how we – my particular family, in this particular time and place and culture, with this particular relationship to healthcare – attempted to make sense of and make peace with Meme’s illness. In this essay, I examine how medical anthropology as an intellectual tool for engaging with my grandmother’s death profoundly enriched my emotional and spiritual experience as a granddaughter, daughter, and sister.

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