Accepted paper:

Is there a need to decolonlize international health research partnerships?


Jennifer Thornton (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

The silencing of power inequalities and politics may be most acutely demonstrated by health research partnerships. The vital function of improving the health and well-being of vulnerable populations renders the examination of partnership dynamics as low-priority and maintains a tradition of silence.

Paper long abstract:

The partnering of universities in Africa and the UK to carry out collaborative research is a long-established and well-funded tradition that seeks to fulfill the dual purpose of empowering African universities whilst enhancing the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. University actors are considered to be equal and politics are deemed to be neutral, through the perceived impartial framework of a partnership agreement. However, the attention they give to advancing science and health may be silencing the power imbalances that exist between university partners. This paper analyses the rhetoric and practice of health research partnerships by addressing the following questions: how does the language of 'partnerships' convey equality between actors and neutralise positionalities? How are expertise and knowledge privileged differently between university actors? Is the 'per diem' culture harmful for partnerships? What can the complexities of research partnership dynamics broadly tell us about wider dynamics of the state, decolonization and knowledge production? The current revival of 'decolonization' in Development Studies, and the increasing emphasis on 'partnerships' as critical to the 2030 Agenda, paves the way for an examination of the structural inequalities and political economy of partnerships specifically in the area of health research, which despite their prevalence too often escape critical scholarly examination.

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Partnerships and power in the 2030 Agenda