Chronic Cultural Impossibility: Ideologies that Undermine Health as a Fundamental Social Right

Colloquium | November 8 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 2538 Channing (Inst. for the Study of Societal Issues), Wildavsky Conference Room

 Clara Mantini-Briggs, Departments of Anthropology and Demography, UC Berkeley

 Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

Even when health professionals embrace conceptions of health as a fundamental social right, health practitioners can embrace a framework that, in critical race scholar Denise Silva's terms, “produces and regulates human condition and establishes (morally and intellectually) a distinct kind of human being.” How can a professional commitment to prioritize the health of low-income racialized minority populations go hand-in-hand with efforts to justify the denial of effective and comprehensive health services? Wakahara de la Orqueta lies in the Delta Amacuro rainforest of eastern Venezuela, where indigenous Warao communities were affected by a cholera epidemic that started in August of 1992. Working there as a physician during the epidemic, I saw residents use their own hands, knowledge, and belief in new and better futures to face a preventable and treatable bacterial infection that can nonetheless kill in as little as eight hours, only to have health professionals literally crush their creative efforts. What was their logic? Paul Farmer has referred to appropriations of anthropological explanation by health professionals as "immodest claims of causality." Here I look more closely at such invocations of cultural reasoning by exploring how they emerge from what I refer to as an eternal recurrence of the syndrome of "chronic cultural impossibility."

 issi@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0813