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Dr Ruth Jane Prince

Dr Ruth Jane Prince

Senior Research Associate, Division of Social Anthropology


Biography:

I am a social anthropologist, trained at the universities of Copenhagen, UCL and Oxford. Focusing on East Africa, my research interests include historical ethnography, Christianity, material practice and memory, kinship, land, gender and food security. Recent research focuses on development, humanitarianism and global health interventions in Kenya. I teach medical anthropology, the anthropology of development and the anthropology of Africa.

My current project is on Kenyan doctors and explores their struggles, as modern-day healers, to provide medical care in a context of scarce resources, widening socio-economic inequality, and weakened government health structures. I attend to the kind of medicine that they craft in these situations - to their ethics and engagements - and explore how their experiences of medical practice relate to their professional identities, their sense of public duty and their hopes for development. This research develops the ethnography of biomedicine and development in postcolonial Africa, paying attention to the ethical and moral dilemmas that constitute medicine in 'resource-poor' settings. It also attends to issues of citizenship, public morality and professional practice.  

My completed Mellon fellowship explored the moral economies taking shape around transnational HIV interventions in a Kenyan city and related issues concerning hunger and food insecurity, urban poverty and intimate relations, NGOs and the Kenyan State, class and religious identities. I am interested in how urban public health interventions in east Africa are shaping spatial and temporal trajectories and imaginations of development, socioeconomic  inequalities and aspirations, and economies of hope.

Research Interests

 My current project works with East African doctors and explores their struggles, as modern-day healers, to provide medical care in a context of scarce resources, widening socio-economic inequality, and weakened government health structures. I attend to the kind of medicine that they craft in these situations - to their ethics and engagements - and explore how their experiences of medical practice relate to their professional identities, their sense of public duty and their hopes for development. This research develops tthe ethnography of biomedicine and development in postcolonial Africa, paying attention to the ethical and moral dilemmas that constitute medicine in 'resource-poor' settings. It also attends to issues of citizenship, public morality and professional practice.

The project follows up on my recent research in urban Kenya, which explored transnational humanitarian interventions into health and welfare and the moral economies these give rise to. This research explored the intersections of bodies and health with biomedicine, development and NGOs, with urban life, hunger, poverty and inequality, with religious subjectivities, and with imaginaries of change and of progress. Located in the city of Kisumu, it explored the moral economies of care, survival and hope, as well as the inequalities and exclusions that are taking shape around HIV medicine and identities, forms of clinical care, strategies of survival and trajectories of expertise, where providing health care is an intervention organized largely outside the state.

This ethnography of a Kenyan city shaped by global health interventions fed into a collaborative project on 'Public health and the African City' (with anthropologists and historians at LSTHM), which assessed how practices concerned with 'public' health, both past and present, have shaped the landscape of the African city and the lives of its inhabitants, and how visions of civic responsibility and wellbeing are enacted through routine practices of urban health intervention. My research explored a) How the city of Kisumu has been produced as a space of 'global' knowledge and intervention; and how this is supported by the precarious labour of lay and 'volunteer' workers; b) The economies of hope and aspiration (as well as disappointment) emerging around 'global health' and other development interventions in East Africa, and c) How development intersects with religious subjectivities as unemployed Kenyan youth orientate themselves towards insecure economic opportunities amid globalized discourses of "empowerment".

Earlier ethnographic research in western Kenya focused on religion and ritual, memory and landscape, gender, personhood and social relations, and resulted in a monograph, "The Land is Dying. Contingency, Creativity and Conflict in western Kenya", with Wenzel Geissler, which was co-winner of the RAI's 2010 Amuary Talbot Prize for best book in African Anthropology. By way of an historical ethnography of everyday practice, the book explores rural life in the context of increasing pressure on land, declining urban employment (in an area with a history of labour migration), and the epidemic of AIDS. Through attention to the material and temporal mediation of social relations, the book explores villagers' attempts to engender 'growth' - the creation and continuity of human and non-human life - across different domains of practice, ranging from caring for children to funeral ritual and land transactions. Taking its orientation from the importance attributed by villagers to material contact or 'touch' in both mundane and ritual practices, the book examines the tensions and conflicts involved, which are informed by Christian as well as self-consciously 'Luo' identities, and their conflicting orientations to personhood, relations and time.

Research Supervision

African Studies, Medical Anthropology, Anthropology of Development

Teaching

African Studies, Medical Anthropology, Anthropology of Development

Keywords

  • Anthropology of Africa;
  • humanitarianism;
  • Christianity and religious subjectivities;
  • kinship, land, gender and food security
  • postcolonial science;
  • media and public culture;
  • anthropology of development;
  • the body, health and medicine;
  • historical ethnography;

Key Publications

  • The Land is Dying. Contingency, Creativity and Conflict in Kenya, with Wenzel Geissler, 2010, Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  • Prince, RJ. 2012. HIV and the Moral Economy of Survival in an East African City. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 26(4): 534-556. http://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/IR/00/00/20/23/00001/Prince2012.pdf
  • Marsland, R & RJ Prince. 2012. Introduction. What is Life Worth? Exploring Biomedical Interventions, Survival and the Politics of Life (part of the special issue on 'What is Life Worth' for Medical Anthropology Quarterly 26(4): 453-469. (December 2012).http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/maq.2012.26.issue-4/issuetoc
  • Prince, RJ. 2012. The Politics and Anti-Politics of HIV: healthcare and welfare in contemporary Kenya. In R. Rottenburg P.W.Geissler & J. Zenker (eds.) Rethinking Biomedicine and Governance in Africa: Contributions from Anthropology. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1810/244829/Politcs%26AntipoliticsOfHIV.BUC2028_Prince.pdf?sequence=1
  • Prince, RJ. 2013.Tarmacking” in the Millennium City: Spatial and Temporal Trajectories of “Empowerment” in Kenya. Africa 83(4), in press.

  • Prince RJ. 2014. Precarious Projects: Conversions of Biomedical Knowledge in an East African City. Medical Anthropology

  • Prince, R.J & R. Marsland (eds.) 2013. Making and Unmaking Public Health in Africa: Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives (out in December 2013 with Ohio University Press).
  • Prince RJ. 2013. Introduction: Health and the Public in Africa. In R. Prince & R. Marsland (eds.) Making Public Health in Africa: Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives. Athens: Ohio University Press.

  • Prince, RJ.  2013. Navigating Global Health in an East African City. In Making Public Health in Africa: Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives, edited by RJ. Prince & R. Marsland, Athens: Ohio University Press.

Other Publications

Prince, RJ. 2011. Public debates about ‘Luo widow inheritance’ in relation to Christianity, tradition and AIDS in western Kenya. In H. Englund (ed) Christianity and Public Culture in Africa. Athens: Ohio University Press. http://www.ohioswallow.com/book/Christianity+and+Public+Culture+in+Africa

Geissler PW. & Prince, RJ. 2010. Purity is Danger: Ambiguities of touch around sickness and death in western Kenya. In: Morality, Hope and Grief. Anthropologies of AIDS in Africa. Luig U & H. Dilger (eds.). Oxford: Berghahn.

Geissler PW & Prince RJ. 2010. Persons and relations in Luo plant medicines. In: Plants, health and healing. Explorations on the interface of medical anthropology and ethnobotany. Hsu, E & Harris, S (eds). Oxford: Berghahn.

Prince, RJ. 2009. Christian Salvation and Luo Tradition: Arguments of faith in a time of death in western Kenya. Pp 49-88, in Becker, F. & W. Geissler, eds. AIDS and Religious Practice in Africa. Leiden: Brill.

Geissler PW & Prince, RJ. 2009. Active Compounds and Atoms of Society: Plants, Bodies, Minds and Cultures in the Work of Kenyan Ethnobotanical Knowledge. Social Studies of Science 2009 39: 599-634.http://sss.sagepub.com/content/39/4/599.abstract

Prince, RJ. with R. van Dijk & P. Denis. 2009. Engaging Christianities: Negotiating HIV/AIDS, health and social relations in East and Southern Africa. Africa Today 56(1): v-xviii.

Adhiambo, P., Chantler, T., Jones, G. & Prince, RJ. 2008. ‘Our son Obama’. The US presidential election in western Kenya. Anthropology Today 24(6):4-8.

Prince RJ. 2007. Salvation and Tradition: configurations of faith in a time of death. Journal of Religion in Africa 37(1):84-115.

Geissler PW & Prince RJ. 2007. Life Seen: Touch and Vision in the Making of Sex in Western Kenya. Journal of Eastern African Studies 1(1):123 – 149.

Prince, RJ. 2008. Struggling for growth in western Kenya: Modernity, tradition, generation and gender. Pp 137-162, in Alber, E., S. van der Geest and S. R. Whyte, eds. Generations in Africa. Connections and Contrasts. Munster: Lit Verlag.

Geissler PW & Prince, RJ. 2007. Christianity, Tradition, AIDS and pornography: knowing sex in western Kenya. In: On Knowing and Not Knowing in Anthropology. Littlewood, R (ed.) London: UCL Press.

Prince RJ. 2006. Popular music and Luo youth in western Kenya: ambiguities of modernity, morality and gender relations in the era of AIDS. In: Christiansen, C, Utas, M & Vigh, HE (eds.) Navigating Youth, Generating Adulthood: Social Becoming in an African Context. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute.