Branwyn Poleykett

Research Fellow

Biography

Rooted in long-term ethnographic research in Dakar, Senegal, my work is interdisciplinary, drawing on perspectives from medical anthropology, social epidemiology, political ecology and STS to intervene in critical global health. My current research concerns everyday eating and the emergence of cardiovascular diseases in Senegal, examining how economic precarity, chronic disease and food insecurity affects how people in Dakar procure, prepare and share food.

My PhD (LSE, 2012) examined recruitment to transnational medical research in Dakar. This fieldwork stimulated my interest in the ethnographic study of sites of scientific research in Africa. As a postdoctoral fellow with the Anthropologies of African Biosciences research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of Cambridge I developed a project exploring how capacities in science are gained, experienced, and lived through time, and how scientific values are imagined and re-made in contemporary East Africa in the era of Global Health.

From 2014-2018 I worked at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge as a Research Associate on an ERC-funded project on the visual representation of epidemics. The primary outcome of this post is my book manuscript Lines of Sight: Development, Decolonisation and the Image World of Senegalese Hygiene. The book examines the role images have played in various political and aesthetic projects targeting the body in Senegal. I examine authorised and official public health communication, including educational cinema, television clubs, manuals, murals and video, as well as the Senegalese vernacular tradition of ‘Set’ public art that emerged from the popular ecology movement Set/Setal meaning ‘clean and be clean’.

With Karen Jent at Cambridge I collaborate on Biocircularities, a project on time, technology and the remaking of the life course. I am a co-editor of the ‘Think Pieces’ section of the open access journal Medicine, Anthropology, Theory.

The research I will be undertaking in the Centre

In the past five years Non-communicable Diseases in particular diabetes and hypertension have become an increasingly visible public health issue in Dakar. In 2017 I began to participate in shopping, cooking and eating in households in the Dakar suburb of Pikine, accompanying people living with chronic disease as they attempted to change their eating, control their symptoms and access care. Pikine households are a microcosm of a rapidly changing global nutrition landscape in which food insecure households face a complex and highly challenging “double burden” of undernutrition and chronic ill health. My research in Dakar so far has focused on the impact of chronic disease on the life course and relationships between the generations in Dakar households, and on the chemical pleasures of contemporary ‘saf’ cooking, a locally valued flavour profile increasingly blamed for “new diseases”.

In close collaboration with Senegalese partners I am currently working to connect everyday consumption in suburban households to other sites: the clinics, wards, farms, markets and laboratories where behavioural, nutritional and agricultural solutions to chronic diseases are engineered.

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