Reassembling Surveillance Science in Global Health  

by Robert Lorway


This talk contributes to discussions on the expansion of scientific knowledge in African societies by examining the entanglements between locally-assembled forms of transnational protestation and an emerging surveillance apparatus furnished by HIV-related global health programs. Drawing upon ethnographic and participatory studies conducted with sex workers between 2009 and 2018 in Kenya, Dr. Lorway analyzes how a constellation of global HIV surveillance techniques are implicated in an emergent experimental terrain that merges scientific interest with health development agendas while also examining the vital role that sex worker activists play in the rerouting and repurposing of technoscientific knowledge. These reworkings enable activists, as laypeople, to more precisely pinpoint and defy the undemocratic imperatives of an encroaching experimental order that aims to govern the health of ‘key populations’. To analyze how Kenyan sex workers have come to engage with surveillance science in their protestation, Lorway reconstructs the conditions of emergence of these evidentiary politics, he calls them, and points to the growing interdependencies between sex workers and scientific and technical experts. Through sex worker protestation, surveillance science comes to exist in multiple, hybrid and partial forms as sex workers reassemble it, enlivening it outside the purified written protocols and analyses of scientists. Attention to these lively sciences raises critical questions of how we might reimagine more decolonized and demonopolized approaches to improving global health.


Robert Lorway is a medical anthropologist and an associate professor in the Centre for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Intervention Politics and Social Transformations. Between 2009 and 2014 he held the CIHR New Investigator award in HIV Services/Population Health Research, which enabled him to pursue the social study of global health interventions, particularly those that are designed to improve the lives of marginalized populations. Conceptually his work attempts to understand how contemporary global health interventions shape new forms of citizenship and ‘make up’ communities and subjectivities for health service delivery schemes. He has written two books on the subject, Namibia’s Rainbow Project: Gay Rights in an African Nation, and AIDS Activism, Science and Community across Three Continents. Robert’s theoretical engagements are firmly rooted in collaborative public health projects conducted with health activist and social justice communities, especially those in Kenya and India.

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