Last Updated on September 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596
American medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes both explores the subject of infant mortality in Northeastern Brazil and reflects on her position as a foreign researcher, including the ethical dimensions of her involvement. The community of Bom Jesus da Mata (a pseudonym) where she conducted this research in the 1980s was the same place where she had gone as a Peace Corps Volunteer two decades earlier. Her introspective analysis of her own role is closely connected to the changes in the discipline of anthropology during those decades. She describes her thoughts as she decided if it would be wise to work there again.
I squirmed at the thought of returning to a place where I had been so actively and politically engaged as one of the remote intellectuals I had arrogantly dismissed years before. Could one be both antropóloga and companheira? I doubted that this was possible.
When she finally does return, the women she had known as girls challenge her on this doubt, accusing her of not caring about them and basically giving her the ultimatum that if she wanted to do research there, she would have to find a way to help them with their problems.
I have had to occupy a dual role ever since 1985, and it has remained a difficult balance, rarely free of conflict.
One of the most serious problems that Scheper-Hughes identified, which she aims to explain in this book, was high infant mortality. This book became quite controversial because the anthropologist argues that in the Alto Cruzeiro neighborhood of Bom Jesus, mothers have come to see infant mortality as a routine part of life; they even believe that “some infants are born ‘wanting to die.’” Her interpretation of this “routinization” narrowly avoids an accusation of neglect based in fatalism. She says that the conditions placing infants at “high risk” are connected to
the routinization of infant death in . . . an average expectable environment of child death . . .
Scheper-Hughes’s approach to “medical” anthropology includes close attention to the structural position of different people, not only in terms of their access to medical care but in all aspects of their daily lives. As the book’s subtitle indicates, she calls this “everyday violence.” Beyond physical violence, she expands on the concept of structural violence as the cumulative set of disadvantages and discrimination with which poor people...
(The entire section contains 596 words.)
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