Legitimacy: The Right to Health

3-9 September 2021, Tuscany, Italy

Convenors: Italo Pardo and Giuliana B. Prato

Generously supported by a Workshop Grant from
the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

Individual and public health is
a legal and legitimate right.
It is a fundamental of life.

Dynamics of trust and authority are central to the current theoretical debate on legitimacy, raising key challenges on our empirical understanding of health practices and the governance of public health, and of the complex ways in which authorities gain, keep or lose the public’s trust.

There are, of course, many factors that impact people’s health, whether it be as a result of lifestyle choice, environmental conditions or societal and economic circumstances. This 6-day invitation-only Workshop is an integral part of a comparative project that started long before the Covid-19 pandemic. Fourteen scholars from various countries, who are at different stages of their academic careers, drew on empirical knowledge from Europe, the USA, India, Indonesia, Africa, Latin America and the Far and the Middle East to study how healthcare and public health are addressed by the authorities and is experienced by the people on the ground. In particular, attention has been paid to a growing ambiguity that across many ethnographies mars the official definition of what constitutes (morally and legally) illegitimate behaviour in public life. Here, the analytical focus is on the management of the health services and of the urban environment, which has a direct impact on individual and public health.

Although this collective endeavour inevitably experienced pandemic-related international restrictions, it came, to excellent fruition, producing useful new analysis and exciting ideas for future intellectual development and debate in this critical field. It benefited from a generous grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and from the intellectual and organizational know-how, network and local knowledge of the International Urban Symposium-IUS, which helped to secure fine accommodation, food, work facilities and interesting excursions. Some participants had previously met and interacted intellectually, others had not. The opening ice-breaking reception, the general atmosphere of informality, the participants’ dogged engagement with the topic and the smooth-running organizational setup all contributed to the success of this collective endeavour. The 14 draft papers were circulated in advance among the group. During the meeting, the papers were, therefore, collectively discussed, not presented.

Comforted by the strength of long-term field research, our analyses drew heavily on anthropological reflection on legitimacy and legitimation (of morality and action; of the law, politics and governance) that, since the mid-1990s, has grown into a sophisticated international debate.

With a keen eye on the impact of the current pandemic on urban life (on which Supplement 4 to Urbanities was recently published), on its inequalities (recently discussed in Urban Inequalities: Ethnographically Informed Reflections) and on the ever-expanding gap between rulers and the ruled, the discussions addressed in depth the complex ways in which healthcare and public health authorities gain, keep or lose the public’s trust.

In this workshop, engaged scholarship and robust exchange of ideas have brought out the epistemological significance of charting new theoretical directions on ‘legitimacy’ and ‘legitimation’ that will help us to grapple with the import and ramifications of worldwide discontent with how the dominant elite manage power, especially — though of course not only — in this absolutely critical field. Aware of the centrality of this topic in theoretical anthropology, we are committed to bringing our findings to a broader audience, not only through academic publications (specified later) but also through articles, comments and interviews in quality media outlets.

Over the week that we spent together working, socialising and enjoying Tuscany, we became a truly engaged and close-knit group of human beings, which bodes well also in terms of academic network. Many promising ideas and projects were seeded during the informal meetings in the evenings and the excursions. Future developments were discussed and work on them is in progress.

Given the high quality of the papers, the depth and intensity of the discussions and participants’ commitment to revise their work, publications have been out relatively soon, involving two separate but interconnected peer-reviewed outputs. They are, in chronological order:

1) A Special Issue on Healthcare and Public Health: Questions of Legitimacy (edited by I. Pardo & G.B. Prato), special issue of Urbanities-Journal of Urban Ethnography, 12 (Suppl.6),  2022 (https://www.anthrojournal-urbanities.com/vol-12-suppl-6-april-2022/).
2) An edited volume published in the series “Palgrave Studies in Urban Anthropology”, titled The Legitimacy of Healthcare and Public Health (editors Italo Pardo ad Giuliana B. Prato), Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2023 (https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-031-25592-2).

These publications will hopefully stimulate further debate and new initiatives, including the dissemination of the findings to a wider academic and non-academic audience.

The future for this topic looks very promising indeed.


Urbanimaginary. Mégalopoles, métropoles, villes à la campagne, ville décroissante : quels imaginaires pour la ville de demain ?

11-13 October 2021, Ecole nationale d’architecture de Saint-Etienne, France

Convenor: Michel Rautenberg, Saint-Etienne University, France

About 70 Brazilian, European and French speakers will take the floor during 9 round tables about the following topics: The urban and the image; Otherness and imagination; Body and shared urban experience; Sound and silence; Utopias and imagination; The future and the project; Plants and the city; Housing and precariousness; Communities and groups.

The programme includes two poster sessions.

The programme is available at: https://urbanimaginary.sciencesconf.org/