Vinay Ramnath Kamat

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Global Health and Emerging Diseases
East Africa
Extractive Industry
Global Health
marine conservation
Medical Anthropology
Outsourcing of Clinical Trials
political ecology

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology



Master's students
Doctoral students

Politics of marine conservation and natural gas extraction in East Africa; Behavioral Aspects of Tuberculosis and Dengue in India.

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.

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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Humanitarian Accountability: An Ethnographic Study of an International Nongovernmental Organization in South Darfur (2016)

This thesis explores the notion of accountability among aid workers working for CARE International Switzerland (CIS), Sudan. The thesis addresses three key questions: 1) What does accountability mean to aid workers and how do they translate their understanding in providing aid services to the affected population? 2) What are the specific factors that make aid workers committed to their work and the people they seek to support? And 3) What are the implications of their understanding of accountability on the overall accountability culture in CIS Sudan? I address these three questions from an ethnographic perspective by drawing on data gathered through participant observation, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions conducted among CIS Sudan aid workers. Findings suggest that aid workers defined accountability in varied ways, and the term “power imbalance” in general and “social and economic inequalities” between stakeholders in particular were the key ideas behind their understandings of accountability. Aid workers commonly defined accountability according to their relationship with the affected population. Accordingly, they bought up questions of social and economic rights of the affected population. The study also revealed that aid workers directly working in the field tend to have improved motivation for accountability work. Some aid workers put accountability into practice through compassion, empathy, and respect for the affected people. The power imbalance and its effects on the accountability relationship were found to be key barriers to making the CIS’s work culture more accountable to the affected people. In conclusion, improving the workplace relationship, both vertical and horizontal, is key to improving a culture of accountability in the CIS’s workplace, but this requires a better communication strategy and participatory decision making in the workplace.

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Restrictions and Resistance: An Ethnographic Study of Marine Park Opposition in Southeastern Tanzania (2016)

The Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park (MBREMP) in southeastern Tanzania has been touted as a ‘win-win’ project in public discourses, given its potential mutual benefits for marine biodiversity and local resource users. In this thesis, however, I argue that residents of Msimbati, a large fishing village within its catchment area, oppose the marine park, citing its negative impacts on their everyday lives. Drawing on four months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Msimbati village, which included participant observation, forty in-depth interviews and four focus group discussions, this thesis examines the village residents’ specific reasons for contesting the MBREMP, and subsequently, the different forms of resistance they employ to mobilize their opposition to the marine park. Using the concept of environmental governance, I maintain that people in Msimbati have been excluded from significant processes of conservation-related decision-making. Consequently, the management priorities of the MBREMP underrepresent their perceived needs and well-being. Furthermore, many study participants perceived the introduction of conservation regulations within the MBREMP as overt assertions of state power intended to control and subjugate the people of Msimbati. I argue that this finding closely resembles Michel Foucault’s notion of governmentality. In response to this perceived top-down flow of power, I discuss the abilities of village residents to exercise their individual and collective agency through explicit acts of resistance against the MBREMP. I argue, however, that the fear of state violence deters most village residents from engaging in acts that convey visible opposition to the MBREMP. Many people in Msimbati instead choose to engage in subtle acts of noncompliance to the conservation regulations. These acts are entangled with material benefits and moral statements about customary rights to resources. They can also facilitate political mobility by undermining the success of the conservation effort, while simultaneously avoiding open confrontation with governing authorities. Ultimately, this thesis brings to the fore the on-the-ground complexities of marine conservation in a resource-dependent coastal fishing village in southeastern Tanzania. I demonstrate the importance of taking an ethnographic approach to understanding the nuanced and context-specific reasons for local opposition to marine protected area formation in coastal communities.

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Contradictions and Exclusions: An Ethnographic Study of African Im/migrants' Right to Health in Italy (2014)

This thesis examines the complex and “messy” nature of the right to health and its intersections with race, gender, and migration in the Italian context. The laws in Italy purportedly outline a framework that includes “illegal” im/migrants in the healthcare system. The diverse ways in which the “right to health” have been understood theoretically are based on a commitment to universal and legal rights or the right to health from a moral and humanitarian perspective. Drawing on participant observation in medical clinics, and semi-structured formal and informal interviews with medical staff, practitioners and patients in two cities of Italy, this thesis provides insights into “the right to health” in theory and in practice. Two key concepts in the study of the right to health are moral economies and biolegitimacy. On the basis of my research I argue that currently, the moral economy of health in Italy regarding “illegal” im/migrants is one of reluctant compassion. While im/migrants’ social legitimacy stems from their biological state, or biolegitimacy, within the setting of the clinics it does not necessarily extend further. In Italy, “illegal” im/migrants enjoy legitimacy via their biolegitimacy, but they are yet to be fully accepted into the social and moral community. While “illegal” im/migrants are recognized as having a right to health they are simultaneously excluded politically, economically, and discursively from the social community. Even in the “humanitarian” version of healthcare in Italy which provides a legal framework where, in principal, everyone can access healthcare, there is still a lack of comprehensive treatment (cura totale). Ultimately, this thesis demonstrates the ways in which the right to health in Italy is complex, messy and often contradictory with respect to other aspects of social life even in a context where there is a legal framework outlining a provision of healthcare for all. Additional research is necessary to understand how the right to health is interpreted in other regions of Italy and particularly in detention centers, such as Lampedusa, which have received a lot of media attention recently for their treatment of African detainees and im/migrants.

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"The problems of sickness follow me": Embodied structural violence and social suffering among single mothers in post-socialist Tanzania (2013)

This thesis seeks to better understand the pervasiveness of suffering amongst poor single Tanzanian mothers in times of severe economic austerity following the implementation of IMF/World Bank neoliberal structural adjustment policies. These policies, which restructured the economy through liberalization, were implemented due to economic crises and external pressure from donors in the late 1980s and continue today. Based on six months of ethnographic research, I draw on participant observation of everyday life in Mbande, a village on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, oral life history interviews and focus group discussions with single mothers and the broader community. Focusing mainly on Tanzania’s postcolonial context, this thesis relies on the unique capacities of ethnography and oral life histories to show the impacts of radical economic restructuring, and its intersections with gender and other markers of social difference. The thesis examines how these have impacted the livelihoods and health of poor single mothers. While there is sufficient literature to suggest that many people in Tanzania live in conditions of severe poverty, little research that has been done to understand the ways in which suffering in people’s everyday lives is locally manifested as a result of economic, social and medical inequalities. Conditions of poverty and suffering are too often conveyed with a sense of timeless essence, often locating the “fate” and “doom” of Africa in discourses of backwards or unenlightened “African” cultural practices and various corrupt perpetrators. Departing from such an approach, and using a theoretical framework of structural violence and social suffering, I illustrate how the conditions of viscerally experienced suffering, especially by poor single mothers, are perpetuated by long term and systemic pathologies which “follow them” and in seemingly quotidian ways. By analyzing excerpts from two detailed oral life history interviews, I demonstrate the ways in which multiple factors align in harmful and unfavorable ways for single mothers in Mbande: I show how the suffering the people speak of in their lives is not the result of ill intention or will of any one person or governing body, but arises from a more everyday violence of systematic neglect and limits of care.

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"The land is sleeping" : local stories of hunger, food and fertility in southeastern coastal Tanzania (2012)

Theoretical developments in the study of hunger and famines are largely grouped into two schools, one emphasizing environmental factors and the other, social factors. However, narratives from Sinde village in Southeastern Tanzania blur the environmental/social divide to describe an interconnected social landscape. Local food narratives reveal that landscapes embody power that determines where people can or cannot farm and fish. Drawing on participant observation of everyday life in the village of Sinde, as well as 14 in-depth interviews and a focus group discussion with members of the community, the study provides insights into the social impact of the recent implementation of the Mnazi Bay Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park and the Mtwara Development Corridor and the processes of displacement and deepening poverty. Subsequently, increased constraints on livelihoods have intensified the outmigration of young men in search of work in urban centres or along the East African coast. Structural violence is revealed as inequality becomes embodied in the higher likelihood of suffering from hunger and malnutrition-related diseases. Social suffering is vividly expressed in the lament that the land has lost its fertility, where the land is connected to social relationships and social reproduction, such as in the increasing concern that children are too hungry to pay attention in school. Local food narratives describe the interconnectedness between the fertility of the soil and the social fertility of families to raise healthy children with viable livelihoods. This thesis explores the processes behind increasing food insecurity in Sinde to complicate stereotypes of a “poor” and “starving” Africa. It suggests that food insecurity is neither timeless nor the result of “backwards”, unsustainable practices but rather exacerbated by two large-scale conservation and development projects implemented in the region that have intensified a vicious cycle of deepening poverty and inequality.

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Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

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