Reimagining Social Medicine from the South

Reimagining Social Medicine from the South

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: August 2021

African Studies, Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Geography

In Reimagining Social Medicine from the South, Abigail H. Neely explores social medicine's possibilities and limitations at one of its most important origin sites: the Pholela Community Health Centre (PCHC) in South Africa. The PCHC's focus on medical and social factors of health yielded remarkable success. And yet, South Africa's systemic racial inequality hindered health center work and witchcraft illnesses challenged a program rooted in the sciences. To understand Pholela's successes and failures, Neely interrogates the “social” in social medicine. She makes clear that the social sciences the PCHC used failed to account for the roles that Pholela's residents and their environment played in the development and success of its program. At the same time, the PCHC's reliance on biomedicine prevented it from recognizing the impact of witchcraft illnesses and the social relationships they emerged from on health. By rewriting the story of social medicine from Pholela, Neely challenges global health practitioners to recognize the multiple worlds and actors that shape health and healing in Africa and beyond.


“Compelling and original, Reimagining Social Medicine from the South rethinks core concepts in historical and anthropological discussions of health and healing in Africa through the lenses of political ecology and relational ontologies. Drawing on rich ethnographic and archival examples, Abigail H. Neely illuminates how robust conceptions of the ‘social’ at the heart of a pioneering social medicine project in rural South Africa nonetheless struggled to incorporate more-than-human understandings of life and wellbeing. The book's insistence that health and illness are entanglements that exceed the confines of the individual body and academic renderings of the ‘social’ alike is a call for place-based models for improving health that challenge global health's narrow frames of measurability and efficacy.” — Cal Biruk, author of Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World

“It is not easy to develop an analysis that incorporates both racial capitalism and witchcraft, but through her deeply respectful ethnographic examination of the work of a ground-breaking and highly influential health clinic in South Africa, Abigail H. Neely manages to do just that. Her penultimate chapter is a phenomenal rendition of the multiple ontologies of health.” — Julie Guthman, author of Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Abigail H. Neely is Assistant Professor of Geography at Dartmouth College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Telling the Story of Social Medicine from Pholela
1. Seeing Like a Health Center
2. Relationships and Social Medicine
3. Nutrition, Science, and Racial Capitalism
4. Witchcraft and the Limits of Social Medicine
Conclusion. Social Medicine in the Age of Global Health
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1427-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1336-5