Wenzel Geissler

Professor of Social Anthropology

NEW "African Modernism and its Afterlives"

NEW "Amani. Auf den Spuren einer kolonialen Forschungsstation"

NEW Special issue of AFRICA (with Tousignant) "Beyond realism: Africa's medical dreams"

Researchgate page  Academia page

Before Geissler studied social anthropology in Denmark an the UK (PhD 2003), he studied history and zoology in Germany and Denmark (MSc history 1993, PhD in biology 1998), and conducted subsequently field research in medical parasitology in East Africa. His doctoral fieldworks for both disciplines was conducted in Kenya, between 1994 and 2002, and most of his work remains focused on Africa, especially its Eastern parts. After converting from biomedical science to anthropology, Geissler at first shifted his field of research away from medical issues towards broader anthropological themes such as kinship and generation, social change, history and memory. Based on extensive fieldwork among Luo speaking people in the western part of Kenya, he wrote, together with Ruth Prince, the monograph 'The Land is Dying - Contingency, Creativity and Conflict in Western Kenya' (2010 RAI Amaury Talbot Prize for best Africanist book).

Geissler then returned to medical science (and to East Africa) through a series of ethnographic studies of bioscientific research stations and fieldwork (2004-2010). In this work on the social life of clinical trials and transnational scientific collaboration, he worked together with other anthropologists and in particular historians of post-colonial science (see africanbiosciences.wordpress.com); together, this group worked over the past decade at bringing together ethnographic and historical perspectives on science in Africa. 

During recent years, Geissler has, together with colleagues, turned his attention to post-colonial bioscientific work in Africa, and in particular the intersection of material remains and traces - landscape, architecture, apparatus, spatial order and circulations - and memory and temporality, notably the sedimentation of 'past futures' of modernist scientific work in Africa, in its institutions, landscapes, and infrastructure. For this research, much of his fieldwork was carried out at Amani Research station in northern Tanzania, as well as in Kisumu, Kenya.

Geissler's interest in scientific fieldwork, and field stations has more recently taken him to the far North, away from obvious post-colonial preoccupations (which return in other ways, though), to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Since 2013, he has conducted several shorter fieldwork periods here, participating in research activities - taking particular interest in ornithology - as well as, in winter, kitchen work at this highly productive Arctic research station. In this fieldwork, affective dimensions of scientific production, and engagements with landscape and climate over long periods of time, emerged as first research interests.

Over the coming years, Geissler hopes to develop comparative perspectives on tropical and arctic field sciences, continuing to pursue the trace and the work of tracing in relation to the making and remaking of temporality. Rather than straightforward 'social studies of science', from which Geissler like other anthropologists takes inspiration, he seeks to develop the fruitful terrain between anthropology, history and related disciplines such as contemporary archaeology and geography.

Research interests

Thematic: Science, medicine, medical research, biology, laboratories, fieldwork; social change, political economy, colonialism, post-coloniality; memory, history, temporality; landscape, architecture, material remains, traces.

Regional: Africa, Kenya, Tanzania; Arctic, Svalbard.

Tags: Anthropology of science, postcolonial science studies, Medical Anthropology, Social change, Historical anthropology, Temporality, Africa, Kenya, Tanzania

Selected publications

JRAI review of 'Traces of the Future'

MAQ review of 'Traces of the Future'

African Studies Review review of 'Traces of the Future'

Somatosphere review of 'Traces of the Future'

AFRICA review of 'Traces of the Future'

Lancet review of 'Global Health Research'

Global Health Research in an Unequal World - OPEN ACCESS

Selected publications


Pool R & Geissler PW. Medical Anthropology. 2005. London: Open University Press.

Becker F & Geissler PW (eds). Religion and AIDS in Africa. 2009. Leiden: Brill Publishers.

Geissler PW & Prince RJ. ‘The Land is Dying’ Creativity, Contingency and Conflict in western Kenya. 2010. Oxford: Berghahn (2010 RAI Amaury Talbot Prize).

Geissler PW & Molyneux C (eds.) Evidence, Ethos and Experiment: The Anthropology and History of Medical Research in Africa. 2011. Oxford: Berghahn.

Kelly AH & Geissler PW. (eds.) The Value of Transnational Medical Research: Labour, Participation and Care. 2012. Routledge: London.

Geissler PW, Rottenburg R, Zenker  J. (eds.) Rethinking Governance and Biomedicine in Africa. 2012. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Geissler PW (ed) Para-states and Medical Science: Making Global Health in Post-colonial Africa. 2014. Durham: Duke University Press.

Aellah G, Chantler T, Geissler PW.. Relational ethics and inequality: case studies from Africa for global health researchers. 2016. Wallingford: CABI Publishers.

Geissler PW, Kelly AH, Lachenal G, Manton J, Tousignant N. Traces of the Future: An Archaeology of Medical Science in Twenty First Century Africa. 2016. Bristol, Intellect.

Berre N, Geissler PW, Lage J. (eds) African Modernism and Its Afterlives. 2022. Bristol, Intellect.


Chapters in edited books:

Geissler PW. Parasite lost - Remembering modern times with Kenyan government medical scientists. In: Evidence, Ethos and Experiment: the Anthropology and History of Medical Research in Africa. Geissler PW & Molyneux C (eds). 2010. pp. 297-232. Oxford: Berghahn.

Geissler PW. Studying Trial Communities: Anthropological and Historical Inquiries into Ethos, Politics and Economy of Medical Research in Africa. In: Evidence, Ethos and Experiment. Geissler PW & Molyneux C (eds). 2011. pp. 1-28. Oxford: Berghahn.

Geissler PW. The Archipelago of public health. Comments on the landscape of medical research in 21st century Africa. In: Regimes of Care Prince RJ & Marsland R (eds). (2013). Athens: Ohio UP, pp.231-56.

Geissler PW. What future remains: remembering a place of science in Africa. In: Para-States of Medical Science. Geissler PW (ed.). 2014. Durham: Duke UP.

Geissler PW. Science in the African Para-State. In: Para-States of Medical Science. Geissler PW (ed). 2015. Durham: Duke UP.

Geissler PW and Lachenal G. Introduction: Brief instructions for archaeologists of African futures. In: Traces of the future. An archaeology of medical science in Africa. Geissler PW, Lachenal G, Manton J and Tousignant N. 2016. Bristol, Intellect: 6-28.

Geissler PW. Global Health Interventions and Research.In: The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. H. Callan. 2018. Oxford, Wiley: 6-28.


Selection of peer reviewed articles:

Geissler PW. “Worms are our life: Perceptions of worms among Luo people in Western Kenya. Anthropology & Medicine 1998, Part 1: 5(1):63-81; Part 2: 5(2):133-144.

Geissler PW, Prince RJ, Levene M, Mutemi W, Beckerleg S, Shulman C. Perceptions of soil eating and anaemia among pregnant Giriama women. Social Science and Medicine 1999, 48:1069-1079.

Geissler PW. The significance of earth-eating: social and cultural aspects of geophagy among Luo primary schoolchildren. Africa 2000, 70(4):653-682.

Geissler PW, Nokes K, Prince RJ, Aagaard-Hansen J, Ouma JH. Kenyan schoolchildren’s self-treatment of common illnesses. Social Science and Medicine 2000, 50(18):1771-1783.

Geissler PW, Prince RP, Meinert L, Nokes K, Ouma JH. Self–treatment practices among Kenyan and Ugandan children and the need for medicinal education in school health programs. Health Policy and Planning 2001, 16(4):361-72.

Geissler PW, Harris S, Prince RJ, Olsen A, Oketch H, Nielsen BS, Mølgård P. Medicinal plants used by Luo mothers in Bondo District, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2002, 83:39-54.

Geissler PW Blood-stealing rumours in rural western Kenya: a local critique of medical research in its wider context. MILA N.S. (Nairobi.) 2004, 5: 76-89.

Geissler PW & Prince RJ. Shared lives: Exploring practices of amity between grandmothers and grandchildren in western Kenya. Africa 2004, 74(1):95-120. 

Whyte SR, Alber E, Geissler PW. Lifetimes intertwined – grandparents and grandchildren in Africa. Introduction. Africa 2004, 74(1):1-5.

Geissler PW. ‘Kachinja are coming!’ Encounters around a medical research project in a Kenyan village. Africa, 2005, 75 (2), 173-202.

Geissler PW  & Pool R (2006). Popular concerns with medical research projects in Africa – a critical voice in debates about overseas research ethics. Tropical Medicine and International Health 11(7): 975-982.

Becker F & Geissler PW. Searching pathways in a landscape of death: religion and AIDS in East Africa. Journal of Religion in Africa, 2007, 37(1), 1-15.

Geissler PW & Prince RJ. Life Seen: Touch and Vision in the Making of Sex in Western Kenya. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 2007, 1(1), 123 – 149.

Geissler PW, Kelly A, Imokhuede B & Pool R. ‘He is now like a brother, I can even give him my blood’ – relational ethics and material exchanges in a malaria vaccine ‘trial community’ in The Gambia. Social Science and Medicine 2007, 67(5) 696-707.

Molyneux S & Geissler  PW. Ethics and the ethnography of medical research in Africa. Social Science and Medicine 2007, 67(5), 685-695.

Geissler PW & Prince RJ. Active Compounds and Atoms of Society: Plants, Bodies, Minds and Cultures in the Work of Kenyan Ethnobotanical Knowledge. Social Studies of Science 2009, 39 (4): 599-634.

Geissler PW. ‘Transport  - to where?’ – Reflections on the problem of value and time a propos an awkward practice in medical research. Journal of Cultural Economy 2010, 4(1):45 -64.

Kelly AK & Geissler PW. The Value of Transnational Medical Research. Introduction. Journal of Cultural Economy 2010, 4(1):3-10.

Malowany M, Geissler PW, Lwoba A. “Go Back to the Land!” Negotiating Space, Framing Governmentality in Lambwe Valley, Kenya 1954–75. Canadian Journal of African Studies 45, no. 3 (2011): 440-79.

Geissler PW. Public secrets in public health: knowing not to know while making scientific knowledge. American Ethnologist, 2013, 40(1), 13-34.

Chantler, T., Otewa, F., Onyango, P., Okoth, B., Odhiambo, F., Parker, M., Geissler, P.W. (2013) Challenges that arise at the community interface of health research: Village Reporters’ Experiences in Western Kenya. Developing World Bioethics 13(1), 2013, 13(1): 30-37.

Madiega PA, Jones G, Prince RJ, Geissler PW. ‘She’s my sister-in-law, my visitor, my friend’ -- experiences of home follow-up in clinical HIV research in Western Kenya. Developing World Bioethics 2013, 13(1): 21-29.

Molyneux, S. & Geissler, P.W.  Guest editorial: Making ethics in the field. Developing World Bioethics 2013, 13(1): ii-iv.

Geissler PW. Stuck in ruins, or up and coming? The shifting geography of urban health work in Kisumu, Kenya. Africa 2013, 83(4), 539-560.

Geissler PW & Tousignant N. Introduction: Sustaining the life of the African Polis. Africa 2013, 83(4), 531-538.

Geissler, P.W. & Okwaro, F. Developing world: Discuss inequality. Nature 513, 18 September 2014: 303.

Okwaro F & Geissler PW. In/dependent collaborations: Perceptions and experiences of African scientists in transnational HIV research. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 2015, 29(4): 492–511. .

Geissler, P. W. and A. Kelly. Field Station as Stage: Re-enacting Mid-20th Century Scientific Work and Life in Amani, Tanzania. Social Studies of Science 2016, 46(6): 912-937.

Geissler PW & Kelly AH. A home for science: research stations and field sites in the Arctic and the tropics (Introduction to special issue). Social Studies of Science 2016, 46(6): 797-808.

Jones G & Geissler PW. Seeking exposure: conversions of scientific knowledge in an African city. Journal of Modern African Studies 2016, 54(3): 389-417.

Ghyselen A, Geissler PW, Lagae J, Mangesho P. Scenes of Amani, Tanzania: Biography of a postcolonial landscape. Journal of Landscape Architecture 201612(1): 6-17.

Geissler PW and Tousignant N. Capacity as history and horizon: Infrastructure, autonomy and future in African health science and care. Canadian Journal of African Studies 2016, 50(3): 349-61.

Geissler PW and Tousignant N. Beyond realism: Africa's medical dreams Introduction. Africa 2020, 90(1): 1-17.

Geissler PW, Gerrets R, et al. Africanization: two conversations among elderly science workers about the perpetually promissory. Africa 2020, 90(1): 18-34.

Geissler PW. Remembering Africanization: excerpt of reunion transcripts. Africa 2020, 90(1): 35-50.

Geissler PW and Prince R. Layers of epidemy: Present pasts during the first weeks of COVID-19 in western Kenya. Centaurus 2020, 62(2): 248-256.


Prince RJ & Geissler PW. 2002. Adhiambo - Born in the Evening. Two Months in the Life of a Kenyan Mother and her Newborn Daughter. (DV, 68 min). Copenhagen, Hamburg, Cambridge: Filmwerkstatt Dokumentarisch Arbeiten (Distr. Royal Anthropological Institute)(RAI Film Student Prize 2003).

Published Sep. 20, 2010 2:50 PM - Last modified Feb. 9, 2022 9:29 AM