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Liberation Medicine: Past, Present and Future

27. Feb­ru­ar – 29. Feb­ru­ar 2024 

Max Planck Insti­tute for Social Anthro­pol­o­gy in Halle (Saale), Germany


Date: 27 – 29 Feb­ru­ary 2024
Orga­niz­ers: Amand Führer (Insti­tute for Med­ical Epi­demi­ol­o­gy, Mar­tin Luther Uni­ver­si­ty Halle-Wit­ten­berg) and Julia Vorhöl­ter (Max Planck Insti­tute for Social Anthropology)
Venue: Max Planck Insti­tute for Social Anthro­pol­o­gy, Halle (Saale), Germany

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS (Dead­line is 10th Jan­u­ary 2024)

„Med­i­cine, the hos­pi­tal, and the clin­ic (…) can be iso­lat­ed, closed off, from the exter­nal world and from the expe­ri­en­tial world of patients. Or they can pro­vide a space where new ways of address­ing and respond­ing to human mis­ery are worked out.
(…) [What might med­i­cine become] if (…) it could see the suf­fer­ing that enters the clin­ic as an expres­sion of the trag­ic expe­ri­ence of the world [?] We might have the basis for a lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine, a new med­i­cine, like a new the­ol­o­gy, fashioned
out of hope.” (Schep­er-Hugh­es 1992: 215)

In her book Death With­out Weep­ing (1992), Nan­cy Schep­er-Hugh­es coined the term „lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine”, which aims to place the indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence of ill­ness in a larg­er social con­text and use it as a start­ing point for crit­i­cal think­ing and resis­tance. Ill­ness, so the basic premise of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine, is a form of pas­sive resis­tance which can be turned into an effec­tive polit­i­cal strat­e­gy. Accord­ing­ly, med­i­cine is under­stood as a „crit­i­cal prac­tice of free­dom” that can cre­ate spaces for patients and med­ical staff in which new ways of deal­ing with human suf­fer­ing are nego­ti­at­ed. Pro­po­nents of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine look beyond the sick indi­vid­ual to social struc­tures that pre­vent dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple and pop­u­la­tion groups from real­iz­ing their right to health. They see the poten­tial and, in fact, the moral oblig­a­tion of med­i­cine – in prac­tice as well as in research – to treat not only ill­ness itself, but to also reflect, and if pos­si­ble act, on the struc­tur­al inequal­i­ties which cause it. Lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine thus stands in stark con­trast to a neolib­er­al health ide­ol­o­gy, accord­ing to which ill­ness and health are the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the indi­vid­ual. In debates on glob­al health, the idea of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine has been evoked to reflect on the com­plex inter­de­pen­den­cies of ill­ness and inequal­i­ty. Access to med­ical care, in this view, is not sim­ply a tech­ni­cal prob­lem; it is a polit­i­cal one. For crit­ics of the glob­al health regime who ques­tion the con­tin­u­ing dom­i­nance of West­ern actors and insti­tu­tions, lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine fur­ther­more entails a far-reach­ing decol­o­niza­tion of med­i­cine. Med­ical knowl­edge and med­ical inter­ven­tions should serve to lib­er­ate and heal the dis­ad­van­taged instead of con­tribut­ing to oppres­sion. Although the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine also apply to many aspects of med­i­cine in the Glob­al North, the con­cept has not received much atten­tion in main­stream med­ical research and prac­tice. With­in Euro­pean med­ical anthro­pol­o­gy and pub­lic health research, for exam­ple, there is hard­ly any work that engages with lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine – nei­ther as an ana­lyt­i­cal con­cept, nor as an eth­i­cal imper­a­tive for prac­tice. This is where our work­shop seeks to intervene.

Our aim is twofold: First, we want to devel­op a com­pre­hen­sive under­stand­ing of exist­ing debates on lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine or relat­ed con­cepts in dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. Sec­ond, we want to assess lib­er­a­tion medicine’s ana­lyt­i­cal and prac­ti­cal poten­tial for anthro­pol­o­gy, social med­i­cine, and clin­i­cal prac­tice. Ques­tions we are inter­est­ed in include, but are not lim­it­ed to, the fol­low­ing: What are the oppor­tu­ni­ties and where are the lim­its of polit­i­cal­ly engaged med­i­cine? To what extent is it pos­si­ble and desir­able for doc­tors and oth­er med­ical actors to not only look at indi­vid­ual bod­ies in treat­ment, but also to reflect on and ques­tion the struc­tures that (co-)determine ill­ness? And what con­tri­bu­tion can lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine make to cur­rent debates on decol­o­niza­tion, neolib­er­al­ism, and glob­al health?
The work­shop seeks to bring togeth­er researchers and prac­ti­tion­ers from the fields of anthro­pol­o­gy, pub­lic health, med­i­cine, psy­chother­a­py, and relat­ed dis­ci­plines. We expect par­tic­i­pants to sub­mit a two-page state­ment out­lin­ing their moti­va­tion as well as a short sum­ma­ry of their planned con­tri­bu­tion. Con­tri­bu­tions should take up the ques­tions and top­ics out­lined above, but they could take var­i­ous dif­fer­ent forms. We are inter­est­ed, for instance, in case stud­ies from clin­i­cal prac­tice, lit­er­a­ture reviews, ethnog­ra­phy-based pre­sen­ta­tions whichuse lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine as an ana­lyt­i­cal lens, or the­o­ret­i­cal reflec­tions on lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine and relat­ed con­cepts. Togeth­er, the moti­va­tion let­ter and abstract should out­line how lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine is con­cep­tu­al­ly, method­olog­i­cal­ly and/or prac­ti­cal­ly rel­e­vant to your work or how it could be made rel­e­vant to med­ical research and prac­tice in future.

There are 15 places avail­able; par­tic­i­pa­tion is free of charge. The work­shop will be held in Eng­lish. Trav­el expenses
can be reim­bursed. Please send your appli­ca­tions to: vorhoelter[at] and Amand-Gabriel.Fuehrer[at]

• Let­ter of moti­va­tion and short abstract (2 pages)
• Cur­ricu­lum vitae in tab­u­lar form


• Nan­cy Schep­er-Hugh­es, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Berkeley
• Philippe Bour­go­is, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Los Angeles
• Seth Holmes, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Berkeley


Tues­day, 27 Feb­ru­ary 2024
• Workshop
open­ing with pub­lic keynote by Nan­cy Scheper-Hughes
•Infor­mal get-togeth­er for work­shop participants

Wednes­day, 28 Feb­ru­ary 2024
• Pre­de­ces­sors and relat­ed con­cepts (lib­er­a­tion theology,
lib­er­a­tion psychology, …)
• His­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment of the idea of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine in the­o­ry and practice
• Recep­tion and deploy­ment of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine in dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and fields of
prac­tice (e.g. med­ical anthro­pol­o­gy, social med­i­cine, pub­lic health, clin­i­cal sub­jects, etc.)
• Pub­lic keynote by Philippe Bourgois

Thurs­day, 29 Feb­ru­ary 2024
• Future poten­tial of lib­er­a­tion med­i­cine (as con­cept, as ethics etc.) in dif­fer­ent disciplines
• Wrap-up and final keynote by Seth Holmes