Epidemic confusions: On irony and decolonisation in global health

Clare Herrick, Kirsten Bell

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The movement to decolonise global health is gathering pace. In its concern with the fundamental, distal causes of inequality and its call for social justice, the decolonisation movement forces us to question how global health works, for whom, where it is located, its funding practices, power asymmetries, cultures of collaboration and publication. This paper uses a new book by Harvard-based physician-anthropologist Eugene T. Richardson, Epidemic Illusions, as a point of departure for a broader analysis of the nature of global health knowledge, science, authorship, research and practice. Written in the ‘carnivalesque’ style, the book proceeds through a series of ‘ironic (re)descriptions’ to argue that global public health is an ‘apparatus of coloniality’. In so doing, the book is generative of four ‘ironic turns’ that we explore through the themes of guilt, humility, privilege and ambiguity. In locating these ironic turns within the broader landscape of global health, we reflect on whether the means of such a book achieve the ends of decolonisation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal public health
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2021


  • global health
  • decolonisation
  • coloniality
  • power
  • irony

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