Author Archives: Laura Meek

I am an Assistant Professor in the Centre for the Humanities and Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. I am a medical anthropologist who researches counterfeit pharmaceuticals, bodily epistemologies, and the politics of healing in East Africa. I received my Ph.D. and M.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Davis, as well as an M.A. in Women’s Studies from George Washington University and a B.A. in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. My first project, Pharmaceuticals in Divergence: Radical Uncertainty and World-Making Tastes in Tanzania, is based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in Iringa, Tanzania, and focuses on the proliferation of counterfeits in local biomedical markets, where an estimated 30-60% of drugs are thought to be fake. I approach this global health challenge through the lens of feminist and postcolonial science studies, as a way to engage both conditions of radical uncertainty and world-making innovation happening in Africa today. My second project, The Grammar of Leprosy: Temporal Politics & An Impossible Subject, develops a line of inquiry which was prompted by my discovery that the antibiotic cure for leprosy was readily available, and yet inaccessible, for my interlocuters in Tanzania in need of treatment. I am currently developing a multi-sited and interdisciplinary inquiry into the temporal politics of leprosy elimination campaigns across historical archives, scientific knowledge production, and global health initiatives. Additional areas of my scholarship include the medicinal significance of sensory qualities like taste, histories of medicine and healing across the Indian Ocean world, practices of dreaming as medical interventions in Tanzania, and more recently, intersections of the pro-democracy movement and Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong.
A frothy brew with powder sitting atop, and a stick ready to stir

Fugitive Science: Beer Brewing & Experiments with Pharmaceuticals in Tanzania

When I originally arrived to start fieldwork in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, I set out to observe the scientific practices through which counterfeit drugs were identified at the regional hospital.[1] I knew, from previous fieldwork, that the hospital had a mini-lab for conducting a Thin-Layer Chromatographic Test. Two years passed before I was finally able to observe this test; one of the reasons was that the hospital was out of the iodine detection reagent needed to carry it out. During the ensuing years, I came to learn that science was happening elsewhere; not always in the laboratory or hospital, but—perhaps even more frequently—in the home, marketplace, and workshop.[2] (read more...)