CFP: Health and Socialism: of Shortages and Solidarity

Berlin, Germany, October 9-10, 2023
Organizers: Dora Vargha, Luis Aue, Alila Brossard Antonielli, Fatima Elfitouri
The research project “Socialist Medicine: an Alternative Global Health History”, funded by the ERC Starting Grant SOCMED, invites us to rethink the emergence of global health in the 20th century. The project aims to broaden the scope of global health history by redirecting the focus of research in terms of place, people, and institutions to the socialist world. Demarcated as a fluctuating constellation of Eastern European, Asian, Latin American and African countries connected through political ideology, expert networks, economic development, aid, and military interventions, the project centres socialist countries in the Cold War.
The workshop takes as a starting point the exploration of existing and perceived material and financial shortages and shortcomings in technological and scientific expertise. It examines how these challenges were addressed through concepts of aid, solidarity, collaboration and exchange in shaping global health structures. Held at Harnack-Haus in Berlin, the workshop invites historians and social scientists to present works that investigate local and global experiences touching these themes.
The West perceived the socialist world through tropes of shortage: of basic necessities, consumer products, and provisions for health. Shortage became a cornerstone of Cold War rhetoric, contrasted with the abundance of the West’s market economy and healthcare. Shortages were, of course, a reality that permeated everyday life, scientific research and medical practice in state socialist countries, sometimes paired with planned or accidental abundance in expertise and medical goods. Local and regional shortages often nested in global scarcity of new vaccines or antibiotics, in which the interests of East and West aligned and clashed. Decolonising states with their contested status in the international health system, and facing grave material, administrative and personnel shortages, became promising targets of aid from both sides.
Socialist countries, themselves recipients of international aid and perceived as in need of development, created a parallel network of aid for the expression of socialist solidarity and material gain through direct interventions into “Third World” countries, and through interactions with the Non-Aligned movement. We particularly welcome papers that address the following questions through the lens of shortages and solidarity:

  • How much do health practices and ideas of the socialist world differ from conceptions of modernity and development as imagined in the West?
  • In what ways did colonial and racial ideas and practices permeate Second-Third World aid and assistance in health and medicine?
  • How did socialist states integrate their dual status as both recipients and providers of aid into their engagement with global health policies?
  • What kinds of medical technologies and technical knowledge were conceived, produced and circulated, adapting to shortages and aid needs?
  • What kind of actors and institutions were involved in giving, and how did they navigate the tensions of material shortages from the perspective of donors and recipient countries?

Participants will be invited to pre-circulate their paper among workshop members in late September. We aim to submit the discussed papers as part of a special issue to a major academic journal. We will be able to contribute to travel costs and accommodation, and to cover full expenses for early career researchers.
To apply, please send your title, abstract of 300–500 words, and CV to by June 30. More information about the project can be found at
Dora Vargha (University of Exeter/Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Luis Aue (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Alila Brossard Antonielli (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/Cermes3)
Fatima Elfitouri (King’s College London)