Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: Health
Recent anthropological attention to care has challenged the bounds of the ethical in a diverse range of clinical and para-clinical contexts. From community psychiatry among marginalized populations to physical rehabilitation of war-ravaged bodies (Brodwin 2013, Wool 2015), treatment for drug users in contexts of historical dispossession to reproductive healthcare for incarcerated women of color (Garcia 2010, Sufrin 2017)—ethnographic engagements with various forms of medical intervention have yielded the troubling but important insight that care and violence are often inextricably enfolded into one another.
Forms of care that emerge in the flow of the everyday can blur the lines between ethical and unethical, coercion and aid, responsibility and negligence, help and harm. Within medico-legal apparatuses, demands to act in the name of “justice” or “humanity” may come into tension with commitments to alleviate suffering, producing violence at the scene of care (Mulla 2014, Ticktin 2011). Care is not easily defined a priori, and it does not always produce “positive” outcomes or sustain life (Stevenson 2014).
The papers in this panel consider the ways in which care and violence are imbricated in medical intervention, broadly conceived, across a range of sociocultural contexts. How do caregivers’ notions of suffering and agency influence their approaches to the beginnings and ends of life? What ethical conundrums emerge when caring involves killing? What happens when humanitarian efforts to care instead incite violence? When is utilization of health services deemed excessive, and how do efforts to contain costs frame certain patients as pathological to justify intervention? In what ways do global health initiatives to treat post-abortion complications meld together harm reduction and obstetric violence? How do clinical interventions increasingly regarded as forms of violence work to sustain social relationships? What, in fact, does it mean to intervene?
Taken together, these papers critically engage intervention as a site of ethical tension as well as promise, social cohesion as well as disintegration, good intentions as well as ambiguous outcomes. They each contribute to wider debates in anthropology concerning the ways in which people creatively resist, adapt, and keep on in the face of uncertainty. Addressing such knotty ambiguities head-on, this panel invites us to consider how everyday ethical engagements both sustain and unmake social life.
Brodwin, Paul E. 2013. Everyday Ethics: Voices from the Front Line of Community Psychiatry. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.
Garcia, Angela. 2010. The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along the Rio Grande. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.
Mulla, Sameena. 2014. The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention. New York: NYU Press.
Stevenson, Lisa. 2014. Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.
Sufrin, Carolyn. 2017. Jailcare: Finding the Safety Net for Women behind Bars. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.
Ticktin, Miriam. 2011. Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.
Wool, Zoë H. 2015. After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed. Durham, NC: Duke U Press.