Health: The Metrics of Global Health


Among the core promises of science is that of more, and better, health. In return, health funds science (in biology, for example, the largest single source of money comes from the US NIH). Health operates via the understanding that it is a good, one that enjoins a moral imperative with remarkably expansive properties. The presumption of a shared good, and the imperative to seek it, has great assimilative power, such that “global health” has come to include, at least: people and populations in pursuit of health around the globe; an ensemble of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, disciplines and university departments, health, academic and policy professionals; and the political, social, economic and ethical relations within and between them.

The moral terrain in global health is already presumed to be known. “Health” is understood as a self-evident and self-explanatory good, the content of which need only be determined by various technical verifications, and problems of which are understood in relation to a narrow range of technological fixes, notably those that are amenable to measurement and evaluation. Metrics are articulated as a form of knowledge that are the solution to a whole range of problems, a piece of contemporary equipment that can cut through national, social or economic idiosyncrasies to describe any health condition or disease. It is also a technology of the near future, bringing with it in an affective field. Which is to say, metrics present the hope that you can have a more effective relationship to the future through their use.

Yet a pressing task for scholars consists in posing questions about problems as posed. In this spirit, our inquiry in this project area is related to health as a good, and those ways by which it is made standard, measured and turned into units of analysis i.e. the metrics of global health. We ask, what kinds of “goods” health may be, by what micropractices these are actualized, in what ways they are amenable to change, and what changes we can hope for. We organize our inquiry in this problem area around a series of questions to be asked in conjunction with those ever-urgent ones of how to ameliorate the condition of living beings.

Key Research Questions

  • What kind of moral imperative is health in these situations in which it is mobilized as presumed self-evident good?
  • How is health turned into practices of funding, research, clinical trials, modeling and evaluation?
  • In a historical ontology of health metrics, how has metrics as equipment been deployed, with what effects, ramifications and also limits? What are the vectors through which metrics are brought in to being and circulated?
  • What are the key advances in biology that will affect and shape how we understand, evaluate and ameliorate health in the near-future?