Ruth Prince: "Public Goods and Private Markets: new forms of welfare, social protection, and citizenship in Kenya"

Departmental Seminar Series features Ruth Prince, Associate Professor in Medical Anthropology, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo.

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!


Globally, the past three decades have seen fundamental shifts in the relations between the public and the private in health-care financing and provision. Structural adjustment policies undermined the role of the state and its responsibility for public health and encouraged market-based solutions to health-care, while ‘cost-sharing’ policies pushed the burden of costs onto the poor. In these contexts, current moves towards “Universal Health Coverage” appear to imagine a different kind of society, representing a “new politics of distribution” in the Global South (Ferguson 2015) in which everyone should have access to health care without financial hardship. UHC is interesting because it reinserts questions of state responsibility and the public good into health-care. However, the ways UHC addresses such issues remains unclear despite its progressive goals. UHC reflects the recent turn towards social protection in the Global South, where countries like South Africa, Kenya, and Brazil have introduced Cash Transfer Programmes and Basic Income Grants. Like these experiments, moves towards UHC highlight tensions surrounding citizenship and the state, inequality and solidarity, and the relations between public goods and private markets.

Drawing on material from my ERC Starting Grant project, “Universal Health Coverage and the Public Good in Africa”, in this talk I will explore how aspirations for “universal” health coverage for all citizens are playing out in Kenya, with a focus on the public good within health insurance worlds.

Research profile

Ruth Jane Prince is a social and medical anthropologist, trained at the universities of Copenhagen, UCL and Oxford. Her recent research focuses on humanitarianism and critical global health, citizenship and claim-making, volunteer labour, and the ethics of care. In August 2017, Ruth Prince was awarded an ERC Starting Grant (panel SH5) to conduct a comparative anthropological project titled "Universal Health Coverage and the Public Good in Africa". This 5-year anthropological study explores experiments with new models of social protection and welfare in Africa by conducting ethnographic research within state bureaucracies, healthcare institutions, and citizenship groups.

Publications include “The Land is Dying: Contingency, Creativity and Conflict in western Kenya” (Berghahn, 2010), written with Wenzel Geissler (co-winner of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s 2010 Amuary Talbot Prize for best book in African Anthropology); and 6 edited books and special issues: “Volunteer Economies” (James Currey, 2016, with Hannah Brown), “Anthropology, Medicine and Photography” (Visual Anthropology, 2016, with Christos Lynteris), “Making and Unmaking Public Health in Africa” (Ohio, 2013, with Rebecca Marsland) “The Politics and Ethics of Volunteer Labour” (African Studies Review, 2015, with Hannah Brown) and “What is Life Worth?” (Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 2012, with Rebecca Marsland). 

Published Dec. 17, 2018 3:53 PM - Last modified Aug. 8, 2019 3:36 PM