I am a sociocultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the dynamics of health, politics, and social inequality in post-apartheid South Africa. Building on conceptual approaches from medical anthropology, the anthropology of transnationalism, political economy, and African studies, my work focuses on the politics of health and society in post-apartheid South Africa. Currently, my research program consists of three projects, which focus on the political economy of HIV/AIDS treatment access, austerity and post-apartheid public health policy, and survival strategies employed by township residents amid material deprivation, trauma, and infectious disease.
I examine the South African HIV/AIDS epidemic as a lens for understanding the social dynamics of the post-apartheid era, focusing on the campaign for HIV/AIDS treatment access. Based upon a historically situated perspective, the actions of actors, organizations, and institutions are analyzed to understand how social outcomes are produced relative to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Adopting a process-oriented approach, policy and health outcomes are contextualized as emerging out of complex socio-political dynamics that unfold at the metropolitan, provincial, and national levels. My research on the South African epidemic engages with anthropological debates on transnationalism, social movements, and the state.
The second element of my research program analyzes austerity, public health policy, and health social movements in post-apartheid South Africa. Here, I analyze how a rights-based alliance of health activists, community-based organizations, trade unions, and health professionals united to contest the closure of public sector beds in South Africa’s Western Cape province. These social dynamics arose in response to the development of public health policy that built upon political principles introduced via post-apartheid austerity, and were carried forward by state policy actors across institutional levels. My research on South African public health politics analyzes how interpersonal networks and political alliances can either enable or limit the circulation of neoliberal policy principles across space, time, and the levels of the state. In analyzing these socio-political dynamics, I engage with anthropological debates on austerity, temporality, and transnationalism.
The third element of my research program is a project analyzing the effects of global health initiatives on poor and working class communities in the township of Khayelitsha. This research focuses on the social effects of global health interventions on black urban communities with high burdens of disease in post-apartheid South Africa, with a particular focus on those playing the role of intermediaries between their communities and global health programs. Analyzing the life trajectories of community health activists along with the survival strategies developed by black South Africans in response to colonization, segregation, and apartheid, the project aims to highlight the modes of social organization that inform everyday life in urban communities amid material deprivation, trauma, and infectious disease.
My research has been published in journals including Critique of Anthropology, Human Organization, the Journal of Modern African Studies, and the Journal of Southern African Studies.
Powers, Theodore. 2020. Sustaining Life: AIDS Activism in South Africa. Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. [Forthcoming]
Powers, Theodore, and Theodoros Rakopoulos. 2019. The Anthropology of Austerity: An Introduction. Focaal 83: 1-12.
Powers, Theodore. 2019. Echoes of Austerity: Policy, Temporality, and Public Health in South Africa. Focaal 83: 13-24.
Powers, Theodore. 2018. On Austerity and Structural Adjustment: Tracing Continuity and Difference Across Space and Time. In The Global Life of Austerity: Comparing Beyond Europe. Edited by Theodoros Rakopoulos, pp. 91-102. New York: Berghahn Press.
Powers, Theodore. 2018. Taxas hospitalares e os princípios da privatização: perspetivas do setor saúde pública da África do Sul [Hospital User Fees and the Principles of Privatization: Insights from the South African Public Health Sector]. In Mulheres no Mercado da Saúde. Edited by Clara Carvalho, pp. 109-131. Coimbra: Almedina.
Powers, Theodore. 2017. Pathways, Intersections, and Hotspots: HIV/AIDS, Interpersonal Networks, and Policy in South Africa. Medicine, Anthropology, Theory 4(5): 73-98.
Powers, Theodore. 2017. Knowledge Practices, Waves, and Verticality: Tracing HIV/AIDS Activism from Late Apartheid to the Present in South Africa. Critique of Anthropology 37(1): 27-46.
Powers, Theodore. 2016. HIV/AIDS Policy, Transnational Donor Capital and Localized Political Formations in South Africa. Human Organization 75(3): 239-248.
Africa: Health and Society (ANTH 2182/GHS 2182)
Making a Living: Perspectives on Economic Anthropology (ANTH 3123)
Urban Anthropology (ANTH 2136)
Anthropology and Contemporary World Problems (ANTH 2100)
Contemporary Issues in Global Health (GHS 3720/ANTH 3160)
Introduction to Global Health (GHS 2000/ANTH 2103)