The Biopolitics of the African Smoking Epidemic

The sign outside the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa, located in Kampala

This research project examines the biopolitics of the growing non-communicable disease (NCD) epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, it explores international efforts to control the African smoking epidemic over the last fifty years. Using an innovative, multi-sited qualitative research methodology and drawing on science and technology studies, the project shows how epidemiological surveillance practices and shifts in understandings of development have led to a re-framing of tobacco in Africa from an economic growth strategy to a public health problem. It has also showed the important role played by social scientists – rather than doctors and biomedical researchers – in devising and deploying tobacco control interventions on the continent.

This project was financed by a Wellcome Trust Society & Ethics Fellowship. It also benefited from Visiting Fellowships at: the Department of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University; the School of International Affairs, The New School, New York; and the School of Economics, University of Cape Town. I have published findings from the project in world leading social science and health journals like BMJ Global Health, BioSocieties, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Economy & Society, Limn, Critical Public Health, Global Public Health, Medical History and Health & Place. As part of the project, I have also co-edited a ground-breaking collection entitled Global Health and Geographical Imaginaries featuring original essays by leading geographers and published by Routledge. In addition, I am currently writing a monograph provisionally entitled Africa’s Other Epidemic: Social Science and the African Tobacco Problem. Together with colleagues and with funding from the Wellcome Trust and the UK Economic and Social Research Council, I have also organised two workshops: one on the Politics of NCDs in the Global South and another on Measuring Global Health. Finally, I have been invited to present seminars on my work at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, the University of Cape Town, McGill University, The New School, the University of California, San Francisco, Shanghai University, the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in Paris and the University of Amsterdam.