Branwyn Poleykett


Branwyn Poleykett is a postdoctoral research associate on the Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic project. 


I am a medical anthropologist specialising in the study of science, biomedicine and Global Health in sub-Saharan Africa. I have conducted ethnographic research with actors implicated in different ways in the Global Health project: commercial sex workers, front line health workers, laboratory scientists, and artists working on popular health murals. Across these projects I have developed new conceptual approaches to the study of Global Health, focusing on its origins in mid-twentieth century development theory, its distributions of power and expertise via transnational scientific pedagogy, and how people engage with Global Health institutions to access care.

My PhD examined the regulation of female commercial work in Dakar and the production of knowledge about instrumental intimacies and social, economic and bodily vulnerability. My doctoral research involved work on recruitment to transnational medical research and this stimulated my interest in the ethnographic study of sites of scientific research in Africa. I went on to develop this research programme as a postdoctoral fellow with the Anthropologies of African Biosciences group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Cambridge. Based on fieldwork in Tanzania, my project explored how capacities in science are gained, experienced, and lived through time, and how scientific lives and scientific values are imagined and re-made in contemporary East Africa in the era of Global Health.

I am currently preparing a book examining the history of health communication in Senegal. The book is based on new colonial and postcolonial archival material, including the visual materials used by development and public health experts in the 1960s and 1970s to experiment with cross-cultural communication strategies: cine-clubs, women’s television societies, and progressive participatory pedagogies for hygiene and sanitary education. In this book I also draw upon long-term ethnographic engagement with contemporary artists who work within the visual idiom of the popular hygiene movements that emerged in West African cities in the late 1980s, arguing that the creative and representational strategies these artists use to address audiences has much to tell us about how mainstream public health messages could, and should, be framed and delivered. This book seeks to broaden the traditional scope of medical anthropological questions, highlighting the intersections of the sub-discipline with anthropologies of representation, visuality, creativity and mediation.

I have recently begun to research diet and the management of metabolic diseases in Dakar.


Journal Articles

  • Poleykett (2017: accepted, forthcoming) ‘Made in Denmark: scientific mobilities and the place of pedagogy in Global Health,' Global Public Health
  • Poleykett (2017) Pasteurian tropical medicine and colonial scientific vision, Subjectivity [Read]
  • Poleykett (2016) Data, desire and recognition: Learning to identify a ‘prostitute’ in Dakar, Ethnography, published online first [Read]
  • (with Peter Mangesho) (2016) Labour politics and Africanisation at a Tanzanian scientific research institute, 1949-1966, Africa, 86, 01: 142-161. 

Book chapters

  • (Forthcoming, 2017) 'Une expérience ambigüe : catégorisations de la sexualité marchande et lutte contre le VIH/sida au Sénégal' in Christoque Broqua (Ed.) Lutter Contre le Sida en Afrique: Mobilisations locales et internationales au temps des antirétroviraux. Paris, Karthala
  • Poleykett (2015) 'Molecular and Municipal Politics: Research and Regulation in Dakar' in Geissler, Paul Wenzel (Ed.) Para-States and Medical Science: Making African Global Health. Duke University Press, 2015.

Open access and online publishing 

  • Building Out the Rat: Animal Intimacies and Prophylactic Settlement in 1920s South Africa, Anthropology and Environment Blog [Read]
  • (with Lukas Engelmann and Nicholas H.A. Evans) (2015) Fragments of Plague, Limn  Volume 6 [Read]
  • Review of Yasmin Gunaratnam’s “Death and the Migrant: Bodies, Borders and Care”, [Read]

Book reviews

  • Review of Hansjorg Dilger, Abdoulaye Kane and Stacey A. Langwick (Eds.) “Medicine, Mobility and Power in Global Africa: Transnational Health and Healing”, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 89, 3
  • Review of Peter Redfield “Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders” Social Anthropology 22, 2: 259-260. 
  • Review of Lynn M. Thomas and Jennifer Cole (Eds.) “Love in Africa” Gender, Place and Culture 17, 5: 673-4.

Talks and Papers


  • “Decolonising Health Communication: Image and Interpretation in Dakar”, Medical Anthropology Seminar London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 4 October 
  • “Lines of Sight: Visions of African Public Health” Global Health Histories Seminar, WHO Centre for Global Health Histories, University of York, 27 April
  • “Debility, renewal, and the commodification of the lifecourse in Tanzanian scientific lives”, Biocircularities: Lives Times and Technologies CRASSH, University of Cambridge


  • “Colonial rituals of counting and containment”, Techniques, Technologies and Materialities of Epidemic Control, CRASSH, University of Cambridge , 9-11 September
  • Race and Revelation: the dreams of Charles Nicolle and the Pasteurian order of things, Research, Reverie and the Wandering Imagination, University of Cambridge, 6 September


  • “Ritual, Hygiene and Ordinary Deaths: Burial in Colonial Madagascar” Corpses, Burials and Infection Cambridge, 4-5 December
  • “Medical evidence in public”, Association of Social Anthropology Conference, Exeter University, April 19-22


  • “Unbuilding the city: plague in the Moroccan Villes Modernes”, Plague in the City: Disease, Epidemic Control and the Urban Environment CRASSH, Cambridge, December 5-6
  • “Aesthetics and abjection in colonial orientalist medical photography” Shadowing the Scene: Negativity in Affect, Politics, Aesthetics Vilnius, Lithuania, September 27-28

Visual Plague, Researcher


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