Series Theme: Standardization, Categorization, and Quantification in Global Health Practice

This year's seminar will explore the utility—and limitations—of metrics of efficacy and efficiency in global health practices. How do we count, for example, the number of HIV/AIDS cases in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of lives saved per intervention, the managerial efficiency of a given NGO? How do these practices craft what counts as feasible or impossible, reasonable intervention or fool’s errand? How does the notion of hierarchy of evidence affect the kind of questions that can be asked and what gets excluded or eclipsed from view in this process? How are measures developed and applied to what was not seen as measurable before? How are legal, medical and political institutions implicated in normalizing such practices of quantification and categorization? In deciding what kinds of bodies are visible—and what kinds are invisible—in the intervening gaze of global health? Our aim would be to place important historical and ethnographic examples in conversation with epidemiological and economic models to open the black box of "institutional rationality" that creates trust in these practices.


Critical Global Health Series

Spring 2013
Standardization, Categorization, and Quantification
in Global Health Practice

  • Tuesday, February 12
    Reading / East Baltimore
    9 - 10:30 AM

    Quantification:  Utility and Poverty

    Excerpts from Gilles Saint-Paul, Tyranny of Utility;  Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo,  Poor Economics

  • Tuesday, February 26
    Reading / Homewood
    9 - 10:30 AM

    Categorization:  Sorting Things Out

    Excerpts from the history and sociology of classification:  Geoffrey Bowker & Susan Leigh Starr, Ian Hacking, Ted Porter, Ken Alder, Steven Palmer

  • Tuesday, March 12
    Reading / East Baltimore
    9 - 10:30 AM

    Standardization:  Metrics of Health

    Excerpts from public health debates on metrics of health and disease: DALYs, QUALYs, utils

  • Tuesday, March 26
    Paper / Homewood
    9 - 10:30 AM

    History of Prevention in the AIDS Epidemic: Logics of Measurement, Efficacy and Rights

    Manjari Mahajan

    Department of Anthropology, New York University

  • Tuesday, April 30
    Paper / East Baltimore
    9 - 10:30 AM

    Determining What Works -- The Challenges of Evaluating Programs at Scale

    Robert Black

    Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

  • Tuesday, May 7
    Paper / Homewood
    9 - 10:30 AM

    Financial Incentives, Measurement, and Community Demand for Hospital-based Maternity Care in India

    Grant Miller

    Center for Health Care/Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, Stanford University

The Critical Global Health Seminar Series is an interdisciplinary forum that explores the complex set of political, economic, social, and ecological forces driving patterns of sickness and health and responses to them.

Alternating Location

East Baltimore, Institute of the History of Medicine, Welch Library 3rd Floor, 1900 E. Monument Street

Homewood, Gilman 186

Participants should commit to attending all or most of the talks and to reading the pre-circulated paper.

Participation in the seminar is by invitation or by e-mailing:

For further information see:

Sponsored by

Johns Hopkins University, Departments of Anthropology; Health, Behavior and Society; History; History of Medicine; and International Health