The Biopolitics of the African Smoking Epidemic

This research project examines recent international efforts to address the growing non-communicable disease (NCD) burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, it explores global health initiatives to control the smoking epidemic on the subcontinent funded by charities like the American Cancer Society, development agencies and philanthropies like the Gates and Bloomberg foundations over the last twenty years. Led by transnational networks of public health experts, doctors, economists, lawyers and health activists working for the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, the Centers for Disease Control, civil society groups like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and public health schools, these initiative have sought to build anti-smoking movements and pass tobacco control policies across Africa. Using an innovative, multi-sited qualitative research methodology and drawing on science and technology studies, the project examines the following four questions: (1) How do these experts and activists imagine and construct Africa and the African smoking epidemic? (2) How do these experts and activists picture and make the African tobacco control advocate? (3) What notions of population are articulated around the new practices of surveillance and quantification promoted by these initiatives? (4) How does a health policy like tobacco taxation, with its assumptions about society and smokers, travel from North America to Africa?

This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The project has started to generate publications, including: articles in Global Public Health and BioSocieties; a special issue on The Politics of NCDs in the Global South in Health & Place; and a ground-breaking edited collection provisionally entitled The Geographies of Global Health bringing original essays by leading geographers and sociologists to be published by Routledge. The project has also led to presentations at: the Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex; the Department of Anthropology, University College London; the Department of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University; the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme; the Royal Geographical Society; the Society for the Social Studies of Science; and the International Studies Association. In addition, the project will see the organisation of a two-day workshop on the Politics of NCDs in the Global South later in the year at King’s College London. Last but not least, this research project has also resulted in visiting fellowships at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, the Department for Social Studies, University of Mauritius, and the Department of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University.

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