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Helen Macdonald

I am a social anthropologist with a BA, BCom and MA from the University of Otago in my native New Zealand, and a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.  My doctoral research continued my interest in gender and religion by investigating witch accusations in Chhattisgarh, central India.   Upon completion in June 2004, I re-entered the field where I acted as an adviser to the State Government seeking to find solutions to the problem of witch-related violence and provided material for an educational documentary on witchcraft accusations.  Currently I am engaged in a manuscript that will be positioned in light of current dialogues around modernity, post colonialism, violence and where alternative beliefs to those imagined as rational can and should be engaged, yet extends the conversation beyond the African continent where very little attention has been focused.

I relocated to Cape Town permanently in February 2005 to start a family with my South African partner.  Before being made permanent at UCT in 2010, I taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and supervised students’ research and theses at all postgraduate levels for both the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape.  At undergraduate level, I have at one time or another given lecture courses on most of the conventional sub-fields of general social-cultural anthropology.  Having completed a five-day residential course (2004), Professional Practice in Applied Multi-Disciplinary Research, (United Kingdom) combined with SOAS’s tradition of ethnographic fieldwork that privileges intensive fieldwork based on participant observation, in-depth regional and local knowledge, I have taught the post-graduate ethnographic research methods for many years.   I am particularly interested in developing more rigorous data analysis in the social sciences and have trained in NVivo—a qualitative data analysis software.  I won one of three Teaching and Software grants from QSR International in 2011 that allowed me to train fellow colleagues and post-graduate students.

I have been responsible for all levels of post graduate supervision and to date have seen 22 honours, 9 masters and 2 doctoral student completed. With a secure reputation as a caring, supportive and motivating teacher/supervisor, I am deeply committed to teaching as I personally view education as a way to transform lives and society, which fits closely with the department’s well-deserved reputation on campus.  For this reason I act as an Academic Mentor, EE rep and Curriculum Advisor, have published on pedagogy and interdisciplinary teaching and sit on a number of committees that align these interests: Readmission Appeals Committee, Undergraduate Curriculum, Academic Advisory Committee.  I won a prestigious UCT Distinguished Teachers Award in 2013 and was short listed for the national HELTASA National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award in 2017.

In 2017 I was elected President of Anthropology Southern Africa (ASnA), an umbrella organisation for anthropologists after serving four years as treasurer.


Recent Publications

Macdonald, H. and D. Nicholls. 2017 Teaching physiotherapy students to ‘be content with a body that refuses to hold still’. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 33(4):303-315. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09593985.2017.1302027

Macdonald, H., Abney, K., Abrams A. and C. Truyts, 2016. Challenges in Exploratory Methods for TB Research in South Africa, Qualitative Health Research, 26(8):1123–1136. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1049732315606065

Macdonald, H. 2016. Border Crossing: Exploring the impact of African scholarship on Indian witchcraft studies, pp. 132-148, Rose Boswell and Francis Nyamnjoh (eds.) Postcolonial African Anthropologies, Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Macdonald, H. 2015. Skillful revelation: Local healers, rationalists and their ‘trickery’ in Chhattisgarh, Central India, Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, 34(6): 485-500. ISSN: 0145-9740.  Online http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01459740.2015.1040491

London, L. and H. Macdonald.  2014. Transnational excursions: The ethics of northern anthropological investigations going south, pp. 93-110, In Deborah Posel and Fiona Ross’ (eds.) Ethical Quandaries in Social Research. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Macdonald, H.  2014. Negotiating safe and unsafe space: Participation, discomfort and response-ability in higher education institute transformation in South Africa, pp. 61-73, in Robert E. Rinehart, Karen N. Barbour, & Clive C. Pope (eds.), Ethnographic Worldviews: Transformations and Social Justice.  Dordrecht, The Netherlands:  Springer. ISBN: 978-9400769151


Interests and Current Research Projects

My current research interests are around the Social Markers of Tuberculosis (2010-present).  This international Medical Humanities project in partnership with community led NGOs in both South Africa and India is an important and valuable foundation in bridging anthropology with other disciplines to try to bring further insight to the controversial issues surrounding TB. The project serves as a lynchpin tying together the schools of public health and social anthropology.  Scholars in this series of projects have worked in Namibia, South Africa and India.  Funded by the Wellcome Trust, AAUN, NRF, UCT Interim Funding, UCT Knowledge Co-op and CIDER.  Research initiatives include the intersection between TB and drug abuse (PhD), how female gold miners navigate TB and mothering (Masters), whether drama can educate and interrogate TB vaccinology (Honours) and private/public partnership for TB treatment in India (Honours).  In collaboration with Prof Ian Harper (University of Edinburgh) we have an edited volume Anthropological and Ethnographic Approaches to Understanding Tuberculosis and its Control under review with Routledge Press.  In addition we are running a multidisciplinary curatorial project on Tuberculosis in South Africa, entitled Swallowing the World, funded by the Wellcome Trust International Engagement Award (see https://www.facebook.com/swallowingtheworld).  Swallowing the World is a conversation between artists, scientists, and academics with the intention to narrate and distil the intricate social, political and ethical issues related to tuberculosis (TB) to a general audience.


Contact Details

Office address: Room 5.21.2, AC Jordan Building

Telephone: 021 6503680

Email address: helen.macdonald@uct.ac.za

Consultation Times: via email