Pyar Seth is a PhD candidate in Political Science and Medical Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2021.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.
I am interested in the meaning and experience of rest in Black communities that have particular histories with racial capitalism, policing, violence, and suffering, and rely on the history of Black thought to understand how Black people across space and time have imagined rest, idleness, and relaxation. I am also interested in understanding, “What does it mean to bring a Black Studies perspective to Public Health and Health Policy?” and how the language we use in regard to racial capitalism, policing, and violence can be used to reinvent medical practice and education.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
It started with Toni Morrison and the conclusion of Beloved. On the final page, there is a passage: “Sethe closes her eyes and presses her lips together. She is thinking. No. This little place by a window is what I want. And rest. There’s nothing to rub now and no reason to […] .” I also have an interest in ordinary language philosophy and I am fascinated with the word choice. So, here I am!
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.
I am working on a paper with my colleague and friend Sasha White in the Department of Sociology and History Medicine entitled, “The Disembodied Practice of Numbering: Racism, Quantification, and Absent Categories of Racial Difference in Health” where we examine 19th and 20th century health science data collection and the processes by which a raw number (i.e., mortality rate) is received and interpreted as a causal pathway.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
I suppose I would point them to a quote from Katherine McKittrick in their text Dear Science. “ […] Black people have always used interdisciplinary methodologies to explain, explore, and story the world, because thinking and writing and imagining across a range of texts, disciplines, histories, and genres unsettles suffocating and dismal and insular racial logics.”
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
Saidiya Hartman. Interdisciplinary Studies is a huge part of my research and I feel as though her work is able to speak to almost any field. It is very difficult to do and do well, and she, in my opinion, has mastered it.
How do you think HPRS will complement your doctoral training?
I am looking forward to having an opportunity to discuss the question (or problem) of translation. I am a theorist at heart so policy is not something I study directly, but the prospect of building theoretically informed policy is very appealing. I am looking forward to learning how various people in the health sphere present their research and how information on health is received and interpreted.
What part(s) of HPRS excite you the most?
The network! This is such a special group of people! Everyone is brilliant. Kind. Caring. Thoughtful. Literally. Everyone. It is a blessing in every sense of the word to be a member of HPRS.
In the RWJF HPRS program we will work with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?
Honestly, anything related to policing in Black and brown communities. Through rest, I am principally concerned with understanding how Black people can navigate the everyday with more fluidity. Like many, I am immensely frustrated with how Black well-being is consistently reconfigured via institutional intervention and state violence. If there is any hope of rest, I believe it must start with contending with the logic of policing.
Here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you had a talk show, who would your first three guests be?
If I had a talk show, I would definitely need to have Jill Scott, Maya Moore, and Regina King. I just love their commitment to storytelling, namely because storytelling is a huge part of my research and a major personal value.