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Making knowledge “actionable”: Horizoning techniques in Global Mental Health

This presentation attends to the knowledge practices in Global Mental Health that render mental health knowledge “actionable.”  While much recent anthropological work on evidence, health metrics, and quantification has focused on the making of truth claims and universals – the hardening of facts, indicators, and epistemic objects – Dörte shifts her focus in the opposite direction: to the ways in which mental health knowledge is at times deliberately “softenend” and operationalized through open-ended horizoning techniques (while retaining measurability within the evidence-based-paradigm).

Drawing on 14 months of multi-sited fieldwork among GMH actors in North America, Europe, and South Africa, Dörte shows how interventionists often deliberately create conceptual indeterminacy to render mental health “actionable” across difference and scale. Three such horizoning practices will illustrate this point: the use of aggregate knowledge objects (scale, care, gap & contact coverage), the use of iterative evaluation designs in complex interventions (Theory of Change), and the evidentiary practices of ever-changing “multi-stakeholder” collectives that align their messages with different “platforms.”

The evidence emerging from Global Mental Health, pivots as much around the question of "truth” as it does around the desire and design for “action.” Actionable knowledge, however, straddles often conflicting impulses; it is less oriented towards uncovering of an ontological truth, but towards a functional understanding of truth striving to make interventions “work.”          

Dörte Bemme is a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the Department for Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her PhD from McGill University (Department for Social Studies of Medicine) and her M.A. from Humboldt University (Anthropology/Literature). Her dissertation is based on a multi-sited ethnography of the field of Global Mental Health investigating how its diverse actors reconcile the demand for globally comparable data with the need for locally meaningful interventions. Her fieldwork traversed GMH institutions and projects in Europe, South Africa, at WHO and World Bank. Interested in the production of 'global knowledge,' she attends to the changing configurations of the human, of care, and the epistemic contours of globality and scale itself.  She is currently the managing editor of the journal for Transcultural Psychiatry.         


Please note that this session will NOT be live-streamed/recorded.





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