Accepted Paper:

'Speaking out' as a humanitarian anthropologist  


Doris Burtscher (Ärzte ohne Grenzen/ Medécins sans Frontières)

Paper short abstract:

Anthropologists, doing research with the medical humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières, face certain challenges. The peculiarity of their role and the aim of the research has manifold effects on the research setup and conditions, as well as on the possibility to share research findings.

Paper long abstract:

This paper deals with the challenges and particularities of doing anthropological research with the medical humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). To speak out is one of MSF's core principles, and the role of anthropologists has been strengthened over the last years. MSF regularly assigns anthropologists to reflect on and improve its operations. To work as a humanitarian anthropologist is applied medical anthropology and political economy in its real sense.

Still, the working conditions, the requirements, the possibilities, and especially the ways how to share the research findings, differ from working in the ivory tower of academia. This paper will cover different aspects, which shape the role of anthropology with and for MSF. It deals with issues such as the target population (often in distress due to war, natural disasters, …) and the work conditions (security regulations, unpredictability) related to it. Other aspects are the aim of the research (applicability of findings for internal operational use), and the predominantly medical target audience. The paper will highlight, that 'speaking out' is often limited under these circumstances, due to three aspects: the sensitive content of the gathered data, the study-set up for internal use, and different perceptions of recognition for qualitative medical anthropological research within MSF. The paper will especially stress the difficulty to fit this kind of research into the framework required by publications in peer-reviewed journals.

The presentation relies on experience over 14 years as a medical anthropologist working with MSF.

Panel P099
Going public: writing and speaking outside the ivory tower