Magic Brighton

By Martin Gruber

Wednesday, September 9th 2015. 9:30 am

Martin GruberI arrived in Brighton early this morning to attend the MAGic Conference held at the University of Sussex. I flew from Hamburg Airport to Gatwick and then took the train to Brighton. From the main station I walked down to my hotel near the famous Brighton Peer. Now I’m sitting outside a Café in St James Street, polishing the presentation I will give tomorrow with my colleagues from the University of Bremen. The Café is just one block behind the seafront with its old and run-down hotels. This is an old working-class area. Council flats next to old Victorian buildings. Elderly, workers and migrants mingle with a few alternative-looking parents and tourists. Signs of gentrification and diversity. A clinic must be around the corner judging from an elderly couple’s conversation I overhear. The woman sits in a wheelchair complaining about the doctors. She has been sent from one to the other but none of them would give her the treatment she desired. The place reminds me of our research area Bremen Neustadt. Despite a different look and feel, a similar degree of class and ethnic diversity can be found in both areas – as well as similar problems related to healthcare. Understanding these differences and similarities as well as the way people deal with their situation in different places in Europe is at the core of our research project UPWEB – understanding the practice and developing the concept of welfare bricolage.

A few hours later I’m with my colleagues Michi Knecht and Florence Samkange-Zeeb who arrived on a different flight from Bremen. The University of Sussex is situated at the outskirts of Brighton in a landscape of rolling hills. The remarkable brick buildings from the 1960s are scattered in a vast park. The sun is shining and a warm Indian summer breeze is blowing. Together with hundreds of other scholars we attend the MAGic2015 – conference: 'Anthropology and Global Health: interrogating theory, policy and practice' organised by
the EASA Medical Anthropology Network and the
RAI Medical Anthropology Committee. Over 400 participants attend the conference featuring 294 presentations in 45 panels.

Thursday 10th September, 5.30 pm

My first conference day was dominated by Ebola. Keynote lectures and the presentations I heard circled around this vast topic that I knew only from the media. Many presenters had been members of 'Ebola response teams' after the outbreak in West-Africa in 2014. Their contributions take a self-reflexive view at the different ways in which anthropology contributed to fighting the disease. Some explained why locals reacted with 'distrust' and 'non-compliance' when health workers from Europe and the US transgressed local ways of doing things. Others critically addressed the role of the international medical apparatus itself. I got the impression that the recent Ebola crisis was not only a terrible incidence for these countries but also had remarkable effects on the recognition of anthropologists in the international medical aid 'market'. This leaves me with ambivalent feelings.

Thursday September 10th 2015, 8.50 am

Today is our main day at the MAGic Conference. Together with my colleague Florence, I present our paper introducing the UPWEB project as part of the panel 'What can anthropology contribute to health systems research and reform?' organised by Helen Lambert and Ciara Kierans. I am slightly nervous but Florence and I are well prepared. The paper introduces our core concepts 'superdiversity' and 'welfare-bricolage' and lays out our research design focusing on its collaborative nature. The audience reacts very positively. Especially the notion of 'welfare-bricolage' raises great interest. Collaborative approaches are pertinent throughout the conference. A colleague from the UK wants to know how we are going to produce the thick ethnographic descriptions – together with community researchers who do not have any anthropological training. We point out that we are not planning to delegate or 'outsource' our ethnography, but to closely work together with our counterparts in order to elicit the new and unexpected forms of knowledge that we are aiming for.

Friday September 11th 2015, 3.30 pm

The conference is almost over. During the last two days we heard many more inspiring presentations and discussions. I learned about 'community health workers' and the way they interact with the formal health system in different locations around the world. Another important question is the way in which anthropological research can enrich the initiatives and projects sponsored by the WHO and other international and national donor organisations. A multi-billion Euro business. Extremely relevant for our own research is the notion of self-treatment. In which ways are we going to address such activities in UPWEB? As newbies to medical anthropology, Florence and I got a good overview over the sub-discipline through attending the conference. Inspired and with many new insights we travel back to Bremen to finally start our field research.