Going Global

I think we want Emory people working in global health to have a kind of distinctive, humble, non-arrogant, cooperative ethos.

—Peter J. Brown, Professor of Anthropology and Global Health, Co-Leader, Global Health Initiative

Vol. 9 No. 3
December 2006/
January 2007

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Going Global
How in the world is Emory?

Global Scholarship for Informed Action

Around Campus, Around the World

"I think we want Emory people working in global health to have a kind of distinctive, humble, non-arrogant, cooperative ethos."

"Is this an imperialist culture, in which we are getting the Emory name brand out, or is it a genuinely inclusive, reciprocal partnership?"

Swimming with the Turbot
Scholarship for a Global Public

We May Be Using English, But That Doesn’t Mean We’re Speaking the Same Language
Universalizing global knowledge


Academic Exchange: What do you think it means to “internationalize” Emory?

Peter J. Brown:
I’ve never been completely clear on what internationalization means, but the term “international” implies nation-states as actors, with the implication that it’s at a higher level than individuals. And the term also seems a little archaic to me in a globalized world. Now, I’ve had trouble understanding exactly what globalization is, too, but I could tell you a little bit about the difference between international health and global health. In the last five years there’s been this discursive shift, and lots of departments, like our department here, voted to change its name to Global Health. The main reason is that this older term, “international,” implies us doing things in other places—in some ways more of a colonial kind of approach. And it implies that the boundaries between national units aren’t permeable, so there’s “us” and “them.” So therefore in health, there’s been a distinction between domestic and international health, as if domestic health problems—let’s say chronic diseases in the United States—are different and distinct from the international ones, infectious disease. The implications are almost, Well, they’re just at a previous stage of history that we’ve already gone through. So that kind of colonial mindset also has a kind of ethnocentrism to it. “Global” changes the emphasis to say, We’re all in this together, and this old distinction doesn’t make sense in a world of so much quick communication and trade and expansion of ideas and capital. We have a lot to learn from you, and we should cooperate.

I think in terms of international Emory, the key really has to do with some better syncretism between Carter Center efforts and Emory’s contributions. Emory, in things like vaccine research, we’re pretty strong on discovery. But in terms of delivery, operations research or stuff on the ground, we’re much weaker, and the Carter Center is much stronger.

AE: Do you think that Emory or, for that matter, the Carter Center, is prone to that colonial mindset?

PB: Paolo Freire, the South American scholar who wrote the famous book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, talks about this bottom-up approach, that we partner with local people and let them decide their priorities, and work to empower them to solve their own problems. Now, that is quite different from what the Carter Center is doing. On the other hand, we have to say that we do have some ideas and skills that have to do with, for example, the flow of funds from the rich world to the poor world. To me, a key component is the kinds of skills the business school teaches—NGO program management and accounting, anti-corruption efforts, or inexpensive techniques that can have large impact on a society. So you have to really partner with people but tell them what you can offer. There’s no reason to have medical students moving the dirt because the community thinks their highest priority is a soccer field. There can be too much cultural humility. It’s an important tension. The Carter Center, by working with local people, increases the capacity of the local people to solve their own problems.

AE: Should Emory emphasize “place-based” knowledge or training in a particular discipline in its global scholarship?

PB: I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive at all. In anthropology, the methods are important, but context is everything. So you need to become in some ways an area specialist. This is not the case in fields like economics and economic development. And also in public health. And where there’s kind of the notion that one solution fits all. I think cultural humility should also include a type of academic and theoretical humility. The notion that we already have the answers is I think wrong-headed. There’s a book I like by William Easterly called The White Man’s Burden. It’s about why these things don’t work. A lot of his criticism is taking on the idea that you can create this “big plan” and impose it on different places, when we really should be working to find out what the problems of poor people are and how we can solve those problems.

Personally I think we’re weak in the arts and sciences in terms of faculty who have interests in applying their disciplines to solve contemporary problems. Some of this is a kind of hubris of the academy away from applied issues. We don’t have a lot of scholars who say, Okay, how can I use the skills and knowledge of, say, sociology, to solve these problems? In the Global Health Initiative, I’m pushing very hard for us to hire more of these kinds of people. I think we want Emory people working in global health to have a kind of distinctive, humble, non-arrogant, cooperative ethos.