In/dependent Collaborations: Perceptions and Experiences of African Scientists in Transnational HIV Research

Med Anthropol Q. 2015 Dec;29(4):492-511. doi: 10.1111/maq.12206. Epub 2015 May 14.


This article examines collaboration in transnational medical research from the viewpoint of African scientists working in partnerships with northern counterparts. It draws on ethnographic fieldwork in an HIV laboratory of an East African state university, with additional data from interviews with scientists working in related research institutions. Collaboration is today the preferred framework for the mechanisms by which northern institutions support research in the south. The concept signals a shift away from the legacy of unequal (post-) colonial power relations, although, amid persisting inequalities, the rhetorical emphasis on equality might actually hinder critical engagement with conflicts of interest and injustice. To collaborate, African scientists engage various strategies: They establish a qualified but flexible, non-permanent workforce, diversify collaborators and research areas, source complementary funding to assemble infrastructures, and maintain prospective research populations to attract transnational clinical trials. Through this labor of collaboration, they sustain their institutions under prevailing conditions of scarcity.

Keywords: Africa; HIV; medical research; postcoloniality; science studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa / ethnology
  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Biomedical Research*
  • HIV Infections / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Research Personnel / psychology*