top of page
Safari Science and Biosciences

This area of research, now complete, explores the cultural politics of experimental research and transnational medicine, documenting the ways in which landscapes, public spaces, and socialities are reconfigured through global health projects. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork over ten years, it brings together Africanist ethnography with the social study of medicine, science and technology, forcing us to consider the ways in which ‘global’ science and scientific knowledge transform as they move between the North and resource limited settings like East Africa. Various papers on this project document the unexpected – an increased militarization of experimental medicine and neoliberal production models adopted in the management of clinical trials. This has led to subsequent questions about the ways in which East African communities are governed and disciplined by experimental medicine, through labour policies, humanitarian aid and global health projects, and US security technologies, and the unintended consequences of these for East Africans.


It also led to a book project exploring the politics of medical science in postcolonial Kenya (1970s until now) through a series of controversies, with a particular focus on the life of infamous immunologist Dr. Davy Kiprotich Koech and his legacy of establishing the Kenya Medical Research Institute, and his work with the Division of Vector Borne Diseases and the University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine. This project reframes the controversies in Koech’s life to consider what his own personal story of scientific accomplishments might tell us more generally about postcolonial state making and the history of medical science in East Africa. It asks: In which ways do the colonial ghosts of early medical research infuse the struggles of postcolonial scientists to build national scientific projects? How were postcolonial nation building projects tied up with the dreams and visions of African scientists? And, how do imperial effects today shape contemporary medical research and national sovereignty?


My book publication, Reimagining Science and Statecraft in Postcolonial Kenya: Stories from an African Scientist (Routledge 2019), is a collaborative account of immunologist Davy Koech's life's work building bioscientific infrastructure in Kenya and his relationship with former president Daniel arap Moi.

2018 Reimagining Science and Statecraft in Postcolonial Kenya: Stories from an African Scientist. Routledge Press.


P. Mbullo Owour and D. Elliott 2023 Super-highways and Infrastructure Development in Kenya: The Political Economy of Kenya-China Road Development Projects Since 2013. African Journal of Development Studies 13(1).


2017 Transnational Scientific Projects and Racial Politics: The KEMRI Six Case Against the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Contemporary Kenya, MEDIZINETHNOLOGIE.


D. Elliott and T. Thomas

2017 Lost in translation: Conversations between an anthropologist and epidemiologist about the nature of collaboration(s). Medicine Anthropology Theory 4(2): 1-17.


2016 When Obama Visited Kenya: (In)Securities and Graduated Sovereignty in Nairobi. English Language Notes, Special Issue on In/Security, edited by Janice Ho and Nadine Attewell, 54(2): 63-76.


2016 The problem with the truth: Political alliances, pharmaceutical science, and storytelling in postcolonial Kenya. Critical African Studies 8(3), Special Issue on ‘Studying up in Africa’, edited by Rebecca Warne Peters and Claire Wendland. 


2015 Other Images: Ebola and medical humanitarianism in Monrovia. Medicine Anthropology Theory 2(2): 102-124.


2014 The Protected Lab: Securitization and Spaces of Exclusion in Global Medicine. Medical Anthropology Theory 1(1): 81-113.

Other Papers

Scientific Collaborations and Legal Accountability in Kenya: The KEMRI Six Case, Program of African Studies at Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, February 25, 2020.

A postscript on collaborative encounters, epistemological tensions, and grandiose stories: Me and Davy, Canadian Association of African Studies, Montreal, May 16-18, 2019. 


Curating Scientific Lives: Impossible stories, sympathetic critiques, & the history of scientific research in Kenya, UVIC seminar series, March 5, 2018.


The Kemron Cure: Pharmaceutical controversies and Moi’s politics in Kenya, 1989-1993, Tubman Seminar Series, York University, February 25, 2016.

2015 KEMRI 6 and the politics of “capacity” in research collaborations, Science in the Developing World Workshop, University of Waterloo, September 17-18.

bottom of page