When comparison comes first: Reflections on theory in medical anthropology

Alice Street*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This think piece draws on experiences of fieldwork in a Papua New Guinean hospital to reflect on tensions between political engagement and ‘deep’ comparison in medical anthropology theory. The paper argues that, contrary to the assumptions implicit in recent critiques of ‘suffering slot’ anthropology, paying attention to the workings of power does not preclude ontological comparison. Through a comparison of the different kinds of visibility sought by patients and doctors in the public hospital, I argue that the question of power re-surfaces in relation to the mutually entangled infrastructures required to realise those different projects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-41
Number of pages8
JournalMedicine Anthropology Theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014


  • ethnography
  • infrastructure
  • power
  • suffering
  • technology


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