The MEREAF project

The project MEREAF “Memorials and remains of medical research in Africa. An anthropology of scientific landscapes, ruins and artefacts » is an European project funded by the program « Open Research Area in Europe for the Social Sciences » through ANR, ESRC and NWO.

The project explores the ways in which biomedical research generates memory and how its past practices are remembered, memorialized, commemorated, erased and lived with in African institutions, populations and landscapes. Combining archival and ethnographic methods, we focus on the material forms and practices of remembering (and forgetting) medical research around three medical research stations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Located in formerly French, German and British colonies, the sites of Ayos (Cameroon), Muheza/Amani (Tanzania) and Niakhar (Senegal) share long histories of medical research that link up distant and proximate pasts of glory, dilapidation, rehabilitation and hope.

We open these sites to inquiry in three methodological strands. The first, Ruination & Renovation treats the materialisations of research within these sites as archives; that is, as repositories of memory about the succession, coexistence and collision of past scientific practices and processes. The second, Living Memory & Amnesia explores how the materials of past research are inhabited and described, as well as ignored and omitted, by research(ed) communities. In the third, Memory Work, we turn to the deliberate creation, collection, ordering and preservation of materials for remembering past research.

By investigating the built, archived, inhabited and recounted pasts of medical research in these sites, we will excavate the political and material histories of these field laboratories; ascertain the affective resonance of their past purposes in their present form; and describe how remembering and forgetting are woven into the social texture of their everyday life. In drawing insights across these cases, we aim to shed light on how international public health practices have evolved in response to colonial, developmental and neoliberal visions of Africa and the ways in which landscapes, bodies, personal memories and institutions in Africa have been differently inscribed by the trajectories of medical science.

This collaborative enterprise thus seeks to enrich comparative imperial and post-colonial history, sociological understandings of science, the anthropology of African modernities, and international medical research ethics.

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