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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

MA Research within Child Development Study on Health and Wearable Technologies in Malawi

We are looking for a highly motivated anthropology master student (or an advanced BA student who plans to start his/her MA at ISEK in the near future) to conduct ethnographic research in tandem with an anthropology student from the University of Malawi. The research will take place within an ongoing project of the Center for Child Well-being and Development (CCWD) at the University of Zurich, funded by UNICEF Switzerland. The focus of the ethnographic exploration is the use of wearable technologies in interventions that aim to improve child welfare and development.

Project Description

The CCWD project aims at evaluating innovative approaches for collecting data on child development in low-income countries, at much lower cost and at higher frequency than alternative data collection methods typically used by UNICEF and other international organizations. The project hopes to improve the data-base for decision-makers to make informed decisions. Disease prevention, detection, and epidemiologic control remain major challenges for the Malawi’s health sector. The study plans to tackle this problem with the help of wearable technologies, devices that will track children’s and youth’s biomarkers on a weekly basis. Such non-invasive technologies generate data that will feed prediction models, which can then be used to trigger warnings to families and community health-workers (known in Malawi as Health Surveillance Assistants). The technologies, so the project hopes, will also enable fine-tuning child and youth development interventions that can be adjusted at high frequency, according to machine learning predictions of child health and development fed by the data on children’s biomarkers.

Your Research

While the main project is quantitative in nature, it also seeks to develop an understanding of everyday experiences of the children and youth who participate in this study. This means looking into the social life of these wearable technologies after they leave the health centre and enter the everyday lives of children in Malawi. How do individuals and communities interact with these technologies? How do children and their parents or guardians experience wearing watches that measure heartbeat, or going to the clinic on a weekly basis to measure their brainwaves? What interactions take place between people and technology that had not been envisioned in the design of the project? How is technology perceived by the people in the selected villages and how has this changed through the introduction of the project? How does the project affect the lives of and interactions between participants and non-participants? These are only a few of the questions that might lead an ethnographic exploration of the use of wearable technologies in interventions that aim to improve child welfare and development.

The project offers a unique change to offer an anthropological perspective on a specific development initiative. The chosen student will be teamed up with an anthropology student from the University of Malawi. The idea is that both students work together in developing the anthropological component of the research within the framework of the project on child development and conduct field research together in Malawi. The research would ideally culminate in their master’s thesis in Social and Cultural anthropology (Ethnologie) at resp. the University of Zurich and the University of Malawi.

Research will be partly funded by the project and access will be facilitated by the local partners in the project. Supervision will be provided by ISEK-Social Anthropology.

If you are interested in applying for this research internship please send a short CV and a letter outlining your motivation to