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STS in/on Africa

written by John Nott

Following our month together, Andrea and I decided to make a start at collaboration, answering a call for applications for a pre-4S workshop on STS in/on Africa. Our abstract was accepted and we look forward to joining the workshop in Sydney. You can find our abstract below; comments, criticism and advice are all gratefully accepted.

Technology and the teaching hospital: objects, concepts and curricula in Ghanaian medical education, c. 1923-2018 (Working title)

Established in 1996 in order to address the dearth of medical education in Ghana’s northern savannah, the University of Development Studies (UDS) hosts an innovative medical school curriculum developed in conjunction with Maastricht University. Such international collaborations must, however, be considered in view of the history of European involvement in African medical education. By offering a broadly defined and historically informed ethnography of teaching technologies at UDS this research will provide insight into the assumptions of universality which underpin the internationalized medical education – itself an under-investigated medical technology – as well as its specific translation into an African context.

Drawing on historical and ethnographic study at UDS, this paper explores how pedagogical technologies – both material and conceptual – have traveled to northern Ghana. Rarely produced with a mind to students in the Global South, material technologies found in African medical schools are imbued with assumptions relating to the presentation of disease, to cultural preconceptions of health, to environment and to infrastructure. However, STS scholars have shown that a technology’s inscription does not equate to its use (e.g. Akrich 1992; de Laet & Mol 2000). The process of technological translation is further complicated by abstract technologies of ethnicity and language which collude to skew medical knowledge toward national and international standards. This paper uses the tension between inscription and translation to trace the “ir/relevance” (M’Charek 2005) of (neo)colonialism in medical education, while also thinking conceptually about the technologies of medical education which might contribute to a more considered postcolonial STS.