Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Africanist Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Class
Valued at 3.7 trillion USD, the wellness industry is making important headway across sub-Saharan Africa. Alongside the scores of joggers that take to the streets before the crack of dawn, public outdoor gyms have cropped up in parks everywhere, while old colonial cinema halls that once served as Pentecostal churches have now been converted into fitness centres. From the rise of a market for private counseling services to new forms of engagement with plants and medicines, new ways of thinking about wellness and wellbeing are beginning to shape the African landscape, especially the urban landscape. The aspirational pursuit of wellness, and the set of ideals and practices designed to attain this state, is driven by shared dreams and anxieties, and ties into broader neoliberal understandings of the subject, self-improvement and responsibility that have captured the imagination across the world. This panel brings together papers that explore “wellness” in Africa as practice, mindset, enterprise and/or material culture. We ask, how do globally circulating ideas and practices related to “wellness” participate in redefining “the good life” (Fischer 2014) and well-being (Jiménez 2008) in specific African contexts? How does wellness, as a pursuit requiring discipline and determination intersect with more entrenched religious and therapeutic practices, and with broader notions of wellbeing? How does the pursuit of wellness (re)produce and/or subvert discourses of gender, class, race, ethnicity? How are body politics contested and reproduced through the pursuit of wellness (Bunn 2018; Taussig 2012)? How is wellness transforming the urban landscape, what forms of sociality are emerging in wellness spaces, and how do new communities of practice forge alternative kinds of ethical subjectivities centered on health consciousness? In taking up these questions, we simultaneously seek to create space for medical anthropologists to attend not only to illness but also to wellness (Besnier, Brownell et al. 2018). We also aim to contribute to the growing literature on the rise of the middle class in Africa (Lentz 2016; Mercer 2014; Melber 2016; Ncube and Lufumpa 2015).