Branwyn Poleykett

Research Fellow


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 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 2017 I began conducting ethnographic research, shopping, cooking and eating with families in suburban Dakar. I work with people in households that are characterised by the double burden of malnutrition: the coexistence of multiple forms of malnutrition and diet related NCDs. Rather than experiencing linear epidemiological and nutritional “transition”, Sahelian households are characterised by the coexistence and interaction of malnutrition, food insecurity, and high levels of chronic disease. Rapid transformations in urban food systems, the marketing of high calorie processed food to “bottom of the pyramid” African consumers, shifting taste preferences, the displacement and devaluing of local nutritional knowledge, shrinking dietary diversity, lack of access to micronutrient rich food, and the exposure of West Africa to climate change all play a role in this highly complex context.

My research has focused on the impact of hypertension and diabetes on everyday consumption and care, examining how chronic illness exacerbates and magnifies household food insecurity. Studying urban food systems through the perspective of consumers struggling to nourish relations with varied nutritional needs, my work complicates narratives of nutritional transition and global dietary convergence, showing how people use processed condiments and flavourings to maintain contact with heritage tastes and to produce a locally valued taste profile known as saf.

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 food insecurity are engineered.

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