series event

A visual ethnography of a travelling Malagasy Bush pump: on the other side of the crystal

The Medical Anthropology Seminar of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine seeks to bring together anthropologists working at the intersections of (public) health and medicine. 

Join us for this webinar with Sara de Wit, Carole Rabemanantsoa and Coen Dijkstra, followed with Q&A, and stay around for an “informal chat” at 5:15pm GMT. Everybody welcome. Registration not required.



Why is a third of the hand pumps in rural Africa not functioning? This conundrum has inspired an anthropological research project to explore the construction of water pumps in a village in southeast Madagascar. By following the Malagasy bush pump on its travels, we glean how symbolic, technical and material worlds are crafted.

Taking you on a visual ethnography, we observe how the Malagasy bush pump is made to work (or not) through the eyes of its users. We observe the frictions that occur when a village encounters a travelling technology that is associated with ‘modernity’. But above all, we become witnesses of the extraordinary creativity of villagers and technicians who are confronted with not only infrastructural and material challenges but also socio-cultural ones. Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in southeast Madagascar we explore the cultural practices surrounding the pumps by invoking the Malagasy practices of fihavanana (caring or social bonds) and adidy (moral obligation to pay and to share wealth). It will be demonstrated that caring for water essentially means caring for each other, in the here and in the hereafter. The challenge then, becomes to bring the technical and cultural worlds together.



Sara de Wit joined the Institute of Science Innovation and Society (InSIS), University of Oxford as a research fellow in February 2017. She is currently part of the Forecasts for Anticipatory Humanitarian Action (FATHUM) project. Trained in anthropology and African Studies Sara has a strong empirical orientation, with long-term fieldwork experience in southeast Madagascar, the Bamenda Grassfields in Cameroon and Maasailand in northern Tanzania. She has carried out “ethnographies of aid” – at the intersection of STS, development theories, environmental anthropology and postcolonial studies – in which she broadly focused on how globally circulating ideas, such as climate change and notions of development travel, and what happens when they are translated by varying actors along the translation chain.

Carole Rabemanantsoa is a linguist and anthropologist and is currently carrying out her PhD at the Free University of Amsterdam. She has expertise in studying the influence of foreign projects like mining and conservation on local issues in relation to land tenure security and water, and has been part of the water project since its inception.

Coen Dijkstra is a professional photographer who travelled to Madagascar with Sara and Carole and has spent innumerable hours to make this ethnography into a captivating visual story.


Please note that the time listed is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

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