Robert Lorway

Canada Research Chair in Global Intervention Politics and Social Transformation

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
University of Manitoba
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council


Research involves

Using ethnographic approaches to examine how large-scale global health interventions have led to political and social change.

Research relevance

This research will shed light on how the evidence-production procedures imposed in global health transform the social and political lives of disenfranchised communities.

When the Need to Provide Evidence Rules Global Interventions

Organizations that fund international development programs or humanitarian interventions often require evidence so they can track program outcomes and measure accountability. The need to provide such evidence can have significant effects on community-level organization, grassroots social movements, forms of resistance and political dissent. Dr. Robert Lorway, Canada Research Chair in Global Intervention Politics and Social Transformation, is exploring these effects.

To guide his research, Lorway is employing a concept he calls “evidentiary sovereignty,” by which he means the power to determine what knowledge is admissible in global decision-making arenas.

Through this lens, Lorway and his research team are examining how diverse members of society (such as community activists, practitioners, government officials and scientists) figure out what counts as “acceptable knowledge” in planning, implementing, and monitoring and evaluating program practices. Their research is revealing the profound impact on communities’ social and political realities when funders insist on evidence.

For example, Lorway’s research examines what happens when disenfranchised communities in Asia and Africa become more and more entangled in the evidence-production procedures imposed by global funders. Using global health contexts as a case study, he is analyzing the unexpected social transformations that take place when communities reassemble expert knowledge to establish political networks that span multiple nations, challenge scientific authority and affect access to resources.

Ultimately, this research will help global policymakers, scientific experts and practitioners develop more democratic ways of designing, executing and monitoring global interventions. Lorway’s research is also changing how we see parallel social and political processes taking place in Canada.