5th Annual MAYS Meeting

4–5 July, Freie Universität Berlin

Mustafa Abdalla, Anika König, Dominik Mattes, Caroline Meier zu Biesen, Ursula Probst, Britta Rutert, Judith Schühle, Nasima Selim

01 Dec 2014

The fifth annual meeting of the Medical Anthropology Young Scholars (MAYS) Network (www.mays-easa.org), titled Peer-to-Peer Aid, took place at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, on 4–5 July 2014. The meeting brought together sixteen speakers from eight countries as well as numerous participants who conduct research in various parts of the world. Like previous MAYS conferences, the meeting provided an opportunity for young scholars (ranging from graduate students to postdoctoral researchers) to present their research projects and engage in an intense exchange of ideas about their work in a hierarchy-free environment.  The meeting was divided into eight panels:

  • (De-)Medicalization and Clinical Anthropology
  • Shifting Landscapes of Access, Policies, and Markets
  • Negotiating ‘the Between’
  • Positionality in the Field
  • The Ethics and Politics of Research
  • Methodological Challenges: The Validity of Representation
  • Writing the Immaterial and Silence
  • Dealing with Disruptions and Insecurities.

As these titles show, the papers covered a wide range of research topics as well as theoretical and methodological approaches, which stimulated lively and constructive discussions among the participants. Active involvement was encouraged by a presentation format that was widely appreciated by the participants: panelists were paired up to present each other’s papers. Rather than providing a simple summary, each speaker critically commented upon their co-panelist’s paper, and posed questions to which the author responded, before the audience joined the discussion. This structure enabled both the presenters and the audience to provide substantive feedback and concrete recommendations for further readings and approaches.

A key concern among participants in pursuing fieldwork was the issue of ethical (and participatory) research. Participants discussed the importance of being aware of one’s positionality, in other words, of reflecting on the power relations in which researchers are enmeshed, and how these influence methods, interpretations, and knowledge production. Examples of dilemmas faced during fieldwork, especially when one occupies ‘dual roles’ (for example, researcher/activist, researcher/NGO staff or consultant, researcher/physician) were addressed. Furthermore, participants discussed how the relationship between researchers and research participants, and between research participants and research assistants, profoundly shapes anthropological fieldwork and analysis, particularly within the context of institutional, social, political, and non-academic realities (for example, in the NGO sector and international development agencies).

Additionally, the question of which methodological approaches are most useful in different research settings was discussed. Interviews, participant observation, and a mixture of both, but also innovative methods were put to the test with regard to a range of research questions, especially in dealing with silence – a subtle means of communication often underestimated in favor of the spoken word.

The second day of the meeting consisted of two workshops. The first, ‘Publishing in Medical Anthropology’, was led by Hansjörg Dilger (Freie Universität Berlin). This session provided insights into issues of interest to young scholars who are currently working on or have just finished their PhDs, and who are facing the step of getting their first journal articles and monographs published. A useful exchange on the differences regarding the ‘publication cultures’ in the participants’ home countries highlighted the importance of planning one’s publications wisely with regard to particular academic environments.

The second workshop, ‘Anthropology in/and Public Health’, was offered by Denny Chakkalakal (Berlin School of Public Health), Dominik Mattes (Freie Universität Berlin), Kelley Sams (EHESS Marseille), and Nasima Selim (Freie Universität Berlin). One particularly salient topic of this workshop was the participants’ struggles to navigate the divide between academic/theoretically oriented research and applied research. Again, thanks to the participants’ widely varying geographic origin, a fruitful exchange took place on how pronounced this divide is in different institutional contexts and the consequences for young scholars’ career options. The participants discussed the difficulties of balancing their ambitions to meet the requirements of an academic job market with the exigencies of making a living. While some tried to meet their financial needs by continuously engaging in short-term public health consultancies, they found themselves lacking the time needed for academic publishing. Moreover, differences in disciplinary requirements and publication styles were found to make it difficult to navigate public health and academic anthropology at the same time.

Finally, the 5th Annual MAYS meeting provided time for socializing and networking beyond the thematic panels and workshops. The participants took the opportunity to link up with each other, share knowledge on funding opportunities, and extend their professional networks, and in some cases even consider future collaborations. 

During the meeting, MAYS coordinators Katerina Ferkov (University of Nova Gorica) and Dominik Mattes (Freie Universität Berlin) handed their responsibilities over to Natashe Lemos Dekker (University of Amsterdam) and Judith Schühle (Freie Universität Berlin). The next MAYS meeting will take place in Amsterdam in 2015 from 11 to 12 June, and Natashe and Judith cordially invite all young scholars in medical anthropology to participate. 

Mustafa Abdalla, Anika König, Dominik Mattes, Caroline Meier zu Biesen, Ursula Probst, Britta Rutert, Judith Schühle, Nasima Selim

Freie Universität Berlin