MA option, taught by Dora Vargha

From local to global, political through economic, conflicts pervade global health in manifold ways. We are waging wars on diseases, building up defence in our bodies against illness, while struggling to navigate the reverberations of social and economic conflicts in healthcare. We are surrounded by the immediate and long term effects of armed conflict: wars have been turning out maimed bodies by the hundreds of thousands; nuclear and biological weapons have been affecting the health of whole populations through generations from Japan and Vietnam to Iraq. How have past conflicts shaped current ideas and practices of global health? Has health always been conceptualised in terms of conflict (with the environment, ourselves, each other) and have the health effects of political and social conflicts increased over time?

This course aims to contribute to a historically grounded understanding of current global public health through issues of health and conflict. Throughout the term, we will look at current challenges, problems and practices in global health in the context of conflicts and examine them along historical case studies, theoretical frameworks and comparative narratives. We will aim to understand how in the past conflicts without and within public health have affected access to healthcare, disease prevention and the right to health. Through the close reading of historical and contemporary sources and critical engagement with secondary literature, we will ask to what extent conflicts act as watershed events in thinking about and practising public health, and also consider what underlying issues conflicts make visible by the help of historical analysis.


War and Armed Conflict:

  1. War on disease: conflict as a framework in healing and prevention
  2. Colonial legacies: long term effects of colonial structures and interventions in global health
  3. Biosecurity: microbes and mobility

Intervention in Health and State

  1. Disease eradication and conflict: Cold War concepts
  2. Humanitarian aid and its limits: challenges of development from the 20th to the 21st century
  3. Public vs private in global public health: conflict of interest?

Bodies in Conflict

  1. Health effects of armed conflict: disability and war
  2. Bodies in revolution: health in social and political breakdown
  3. Racial conflict and health: violence as a public health issue
  4. Mitigation, resolution and end of conflict: past and current attempts at reconciling health and conflict

Preliminary reading

  • Derek Gregory, The War on Ebola. Geographical Imaginations, October 25, 2014
  • Paul Farmer, Diary. London Review of Books, 36 No. 20 · 23 October 2014, 38-39
  • Emily Martin: Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS, Beacon Press, 1994.
  • Paul Greenough, ” Intimidation, Coercion and Resistance in the Final Stages of the South Asian Smallpox Eradication Campaign, 1973-1975″ Social Science and Medicine 41 (1995), 633-645.
  • Seth Koven, “Remembering and Dismemberment: Crippled Children, Wounded Soldiers and the Great War in Britain” AHR, October, 1994
  • Beth Linker: War’s waste: Rehabilitation in World War I America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011
  • Luise White, Speaking with Vampires. Rumor and History in Colonial Africa. University of California Press, 2000
  • Earle, Rebecca, “Rape and the Anxious Republic: Revolutionary Colombia, 1810-1830,” in Dore, Elizabeth and Maxine Molyneux, eds. Hidden History of Gender and the State in Latin America. Duke University Press, 2000.
  • Kent Buse and Gill Walt, “Role Conflict? The World Bank and the World’s Health” Social Science and Medicine 50(2)2000: 169-176
  • Amy L. Staples, The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945-1965. Kent State University Press, 2006
  • Hine, Darlene Clark. Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950. Indiana University Press, 1989.
  • War, medicine and modernity, edited by Roger Cooter, Mark Harrison and Steve Sturdy. Sutton, 1998
  • Andrew Lakoff and Stephen Collier, Biosecurity Interventions: Global Health and Security in Question. Columbia University Press, 2008.
  • Medicine At The Border. Disease, Globalization and Security, 1850 to the Present, edited by Alison Bashford. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006