Past Events

October 2016                                                                     

Wednesday, October 26                                                                                                                                            12:00-1:30pm

Birth Matters: Black Women and Research Justice as Transformative Praxis

Julia Chinyere Oparah, Associate Provost and Professor and Co-Chair of Ethnic Studies, Mills College

Research justice is a strategic framework within which those directly affected by structural violence and discrimination use research tools in order to achieve self determination and lasting social change. Based on a term coined by DataCenter, an Oakland-based research collective, this movement toward community-driven research demands that academic researchers interrogate questions of power, privilege and accountability in our research praxis. Using a research justice approach, Oparah worked alongside members of Black Women Birthing Justice to document black women's experiences of childbirth, and to publish an anthology of critical essays and testimonies on black bodies and birth justice. Their research uncovered birthing as a site of disabling, trauma or even death for black women and gender non-conforming people. In this talk, Oparah explores her experience as an activist scholar in the movement to #LiberateBlackBirth and shares both the transformative power and the dilemmas of research justice.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way 

Sponsored by Center for Research on Social Change

Co-sponsored by Center for Race & Gender Social Movements Working Group and Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

 November 2016

Friday, November 4


Structural Competency Series

Structural Competency: New Responses to Inequity and Discrimination in Health and Welfare

Structural competency is a new framework for understanding and addressing the inequalities that make us sick. This framework analyzes institutional and structural hierarchies and discrimination in order to respond to the ways these lead to sickness and disease. This conference, the first focused on public health and structural competency, will bring together national and local experts and community organizations to imagine paths towards a more equal and healthy future.

Keynote: Helena Hansen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Anthropology, New York University. “Structural Competency for Public Health.” 

For a complete program, location, and registration, please visit the conference website.

Wednesday, November 9


ISSI Colloquia Series:

The Emotional Lives of Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS

Samuel Cohn, Professor, Medieval History, University of Glasgow, UK

From an interdisciplinary array of scholars, a consensus has emerged: invariably, epidemics in past times provoked class hatred, blamed the ‘other’, and victimized the victims of epidemic diseases. Such hate and violence, moreover, more readily erupted when diseases were mysterious without known cures or preventive measures. The evidence for these proclamations, however, rests on a handful of examples--the Black Death, the Great Pox at the end of the sixteenth century, cholera riots of the 1830s, and AIDS, centred almost exclusively on the U.S. experience. From investigating thousands of descriptions of epidemics reaching back to one during Pharaoh Mempses’s First Dynasty (c. 2920 BCE) to the distrust and violence that erupted with Ebola in 2014-15, I argue that the trajectory and essence of epidemics' socio-psychological consequences across time differ radically from present notions. First, historians post-AIDS have missed a fundamental ingredient of the history of Epidemics. Instead of sparking hate and blame across time, epidemics have shown a remarkable power to unify societies across class, race, ethnicity, and religion and to spur self-sacrifice and compassion. Second, instead of spurring hate and violence when diseases were mysterious, that is, almost without exception before the ‘Laboratory Revolution’ of the late nineteenth century, modernity was the great incubator of a disease-hate nexus. Third, even with those diseases that have provoked hate as with smallpox, poliomyelitis, plague, and cholera, blaming ‘the other’ or victimizing diseased victims was rare. Instead, the history of epidemics and their socio-psychological consequences is more varied and richer than historians and pundits have heretofore allowed.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine  

 March 2016

Tuesday, March 1


ISSI Colloquia Series:

Unintended Pregnancy Prevention: Public Health Imperative, Clinical Outcome, or Reproductive Justice?

Anu Gomez, Assistant Professor, School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley

Unintended pregnancy is considered a social problem in the United States, frequently described as burdensome, costly, staggering, and/or devastating. For decades, researchers have called for the improvement of measures of unintended pregnancy, as standard survey measures fail to capture the complex constellation of factors that impact whether a woman describes her pregnancy as intended or unintended. Despite its poor measurement, the concept of unintended pregnancy continues to drive public health imperatives and clinical practices. In the present study, we analyze in-depth individual interview and survey data from approximately 50 couples including young (ages 18-24) women and their male partners to examine pregnancy intentions. We find great variations in how participants’ with access to educational and economic opportunities describe their pregnancy intentions, desires and motivations compared to those that are more disadvantaged. In particular, we have focused on the idea of ambivalent intentions. These data suggest that individuals who appear ambivalent by traditional survey measures are usually not ambivalent at all; rather, their survey responses reflect a superficial mechanism for self-protection or a way to give voice to far more complex internal processes. Given the opportunity for deeper reflection and analysis, most participants were clear about their pregnancy intentions and described competing individual, relational and structural factors that impact their ability to plan and envision families. We argue that current conceptualizations of unintended pregnancy promote heteronormativity and locate the cause of social problems in reproduction, leading to policies and interventions that can paradoxically undermine reproductive justice.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

Monday, March 7


"Envisioning Radical Collective Medicine." 

Prof. Adrienne Pine (American University) and Prof. Helena Hansen (NYU).  

Professor Pine will present clips from Beth Geglia and Jesse Freeston's film Revolutionary Medicine and discuss the film's social life as an organizing tool toward a vision and practice of healthcare as a human right, drawing on examples from Honduras, Cuba and the United States.

Professor Hansen will screen footage from Managing the Fix, her film about the art and exclusions of treating addiction in the age of pills. Following three heroin dependent people through their attempts at treatment, the film illustrates how a two-tiered system developed that excludes many. For those access addiction pharmaceuticals, it asks whether medication is enough, and whether the goal of treatment should be to reduce harm or become "drug free."

New Location: 
Berkeley Free Clinic - the Fireside Room
2339 Durant Ave., Berkeley

This event is sponsored by the Critical Social Medicine Working Group (RadMed), a project of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

 April 2016

Thursday, April 7


Chasing the Dragon: The Malleable Addict and Shaming in a Chinese Therapeutic Community 

Sandra Teresa Hyde, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, and Visiting Scholar, ISSI

Until the late 1990s, convicted Chinese illegal drug users were considered criminals and placed in either the justice system’s drug prisons or in labor camps. Today, while the drug prison and the labor camp still exist, a small group of psychiatrists and AIDS activists who want to embrace what Foucault labeled the humanism of the asylum provides clinical residential care at "Sunlight." As such there are two competing ideologies on controlling drug epidemics in China: the dominant one is punitive and the other therapeutic; however, within these two ideological positions, there remains a massive disjuncture between the reality of everyday life and official policy. In this paper I focus on the intersection of subjectivity and the social-psychological dimensions of individual and collective lives in the onslaught of globalization and illegal drug consumption. I ask: 1) how do Chinese users of illegal street drugs learn to reform their emotions in an effort to rethink the modern Chinese healthy citizen? And 2) how does one write a clinical ethnography of the emotions in a therapeutic community in contemporary China?  Sunlight is a clinical space that rises and falls within a particular set of institutions and ideas that travel across the globe -- behavior modification, AA/Narcotics Anonymous, Mind/Body treatments, abstinence -- what do these modalities say about how ‘a complicated kindness’ travels?  I end by problematizing the conditions and practices within Sunlight therapeutic community, where we find new kinds of post-millennial citizens performing therapeutic rituals that lead to a complicated kind of care and healing.  

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the Center for Chinese Studies

Fall 2015

 September 2015

Thursday, September 17


BCSM Co-sponsored Event:

Wheelchair Politics: Disability and Violent Masculinities within a Gang

Laurence Ralph, Associate Professor of Anthropology and African and African American Studies, Harvard University

My paper argues that, while admirable, the focus on assuaging social difference within the disability right’s movement has served to obscure key distinctions within disabled communities along the axes of race, socioeconomic status, and gender. While the larger community of disabled activists tends to use the social model of disability, in which there is multiple ways to view ability and physical capacities are not devalued, disabled ex-gang members rely on a medical model of disability that highlights physical differences rather than diminishing them. Here we see what happens when several wheelchair-bound ex-gang members use their life stories to try and steer other young gang members away from a gang’s reliance on sacrifice and vengeance. The fact that they are willing to insist on the defectiveness of their own bodies as a way to deter gun violence is an example of the sheer magnitude of problems with which poor African Americans must contend, and the sheer burden that violence creates in urban Chicago.

Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hall

Sponsored by Center for Ethnographic Research and Department of Anthropology

 October 2015

 Tuesday, October 20


BCSM Co-sponsored Event: 

Biotechnologies and Immigration: Biological Citizenship and the Use of DNA Testing for Family Reunification

Torsten Heinemann, Professor of Sociology, Institute of Sociology, Universität Hamburg

Since the 1990s, many countries around the world have begun to use DNA analysis to establish biological relatedness in family reunification cases. Family reunification refers to the right of family members living abroad to join relatives who hold long-term residence permits in a given country. While this right has been an integral part of many countries’ immigration policies, the current trend among host countries seems to favor more restrictive family reunification policies. To be reunited, family members have to prove their family status by official documents. Even if applicants possess the required documents, immigration authorities often reject the information as they question the authenticity of the documents. In this context, many countries resort to DNA tests to resolve cases in which they consider the information presented on family relations to be incomplete or unsatisfactory. Today, at least 21 nation states have incorporated the use of DNA testing into decision-making on immigration.

In this talk, I will present the results of an international research project on the use of DNA testing for family reunification in Europe and will compare them with the situation in the USA. I outline general trends of DNA analysis for family reunification and analyze the societal and political implications of parental testing in this context. I argue that DNA analyses for family reunification establish and strengthen a biological family model which is in contrast to the more pluralistic and social concepts of family in many societies in Europe and North America. I will then relate my findings to the ongoing debate on biological citizenship and show that biological criteria play an important role in decision-making on citizenship rights in nation-states. I argue that the use of parental testing for immigration endorses a biological concept of the family that is mobilized to diminish citizenship rights.

The argument is based on an extensive document analysis as well as interviews with representatives of international governmental organizations, international and national NGOs and immigration authorities, lawyers specializing in immigration law, geneticists and those applying for family reunification.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Sponsored by Center for Research on Social Change

 Friday, October 23


BCSM Brown Bag Colloquium:

Theory in Action: Violence in the Margins

Javier Auyero, Professor of Latin American Sociology, University of Texas, Austin

Philippe Bourgois, Professor of Anthropology and Family and Community Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Professor of Medical Anthropology, UC Berkeley

James Quesada, Professor of Anthropology, San Francisco State University, as moderator and discussant

Violence at the Urban Margins (Oxford University Press, 2015) brings together scholars across disciplines working on a perplexing question. How did Latin America emerge from decades of extreme violence — revolutionary, counter-insurgency, and military state  — at the end of the 20th century only to plunge into a cauldron of delinquent, criminal, interpersonal, and political state/para-state violence under democratic regimes? Violence in the inner-cities of North America is another matter, though linked through the drug trade and forced migrations, as well as to US militancy and wars abroad that have come home to roost. Our purpose is to ignite a North-South hemispheric dialogue and debate on “theory in action” — the creative uses of diverse theoretical, analytical and ethnographic/methodological tools applied to the study of the networks of trans-national, state, paramilitary, criminal, global and local perpetrators, collaborators, victims, and bystanders of urban terror in the Americas. 

New location: 170 Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley

Sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, Medical Anthropology, UC Berkeley-UCSF Critical Social Medicine Working Group, Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice, and Center for Latin American Studies

 Thursday, October 27


BCSM Co-sponsored Event:

The Molecular Reinscription of Race in Science, Law, and Medicine

Troy Duster, Chancellor's Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley

In the first decade after the completion of the Human Genome Project, there has been a world-wide development that few predicted – the resurgence of the idea that racial taxonomies which have been deployed to explain complex social behaviors (such as crime, academic performance, and massive health disparities) have a biological and genetic basis.  This presentation will attempt to briefly chronicle, analyze, and attempt to account for this development – and address some of the important implications for the social sciences.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Sponsored by Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

 November 2015

 Wednesday, November 4


BCSM Co-sponsored Event:

Tuskegee Then and Now: An Exploration of Historical Trauma in the Life of a Direct Descendant

Tina Sacks, Assistant Professor, School of Social Welfare, UC Berkeley

The specter of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study looms large in the research literature, particularly related to African-American’s distrust of medical research. Less is known about how direct descendants of study victims perceive health care institutions and providers. The purpose of this study is to explore the long-term implications of the Tuskegee Study on a woman whose great-grandfather died of untreated syphilis as a result. The study explores the 1) role of historical trauma on Black populations; 2) inter-generational impact of trauma in a Black family; and 3) implications of these events on engagement with healthcare providers. This study used the case study method to explore the experience of one woman who is a direct descendant. The respondent, a 37-year old married woman with children, was recruited as part of a larger study on healthcare disparities among the Black middle class. Data are based on a focus group and a 2-hour in-depth interview. The Tuskegee Study continues to affect the behavior of direct descendants. Members of the respondent’s family strictly prohibited her from seeking medical care from any non-Black healthcare provider. As an adult, the respondent refused to allow her children to be treated by a non-Black healthcare provider. The respondent and her family developed these strategies to counteract the particular trauma of Tuskegee and the general trauma of being treated negatively in majority White institutions. This study provides historically situated insights into how Black people interpret racial discrimination, and strategies they use to counteract it, including seeking race-concordant healthcare providers.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Sponsored by Center for Research on Social Change

 Spring 2015


 January 2015

Saturday, January 3


“All I Eat is ARVs” and “All They Do Is Pray”: The Narrowing of Care in Mozambique’s AIDS Economy

Ippolytos Kalofonos MD, PhD, University of California Los Angeles, Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

 February 2015

Tuesday, Feburary 10


Is Housing a Structural Intervention for Health in Homeless Youth? 

Colette Auerswald MD, MS, Associate Professor of Community Health and Human Development, UC Berkeley School of Public Health; Director of Research Training, Joint Medical Program

Transitional aged homeless youth (TAHY,18-24) suffer health disparities, largely related to drug and sexual risk behaviors. Research indicates that providing permanent supportive housing (PSH) to homeless adults reduces their drug and sexual risk behaviors. However, the effects of PSH on the health behaviors of TAHY have not been studied. Research further suggests that changes in the social networks of homeless youth may reduce such risk behaviors. PSH may therefore have an impact on survival behaviors, social networks, HIV risk, and substance abuse. In January of 2014, the first San Francisco city-funded PSH building exclusively designated TAHY opened its doors. We are conducting an ongoing mixed ethnographic and epidemiological assessment of the effect of PSH on TAHY’s health and health behaviors.

Anna Head Alumnae Hall, 2537 Haste Street

Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues; co-sponsored by BCSM

 April 2015

Wednesday, April 1


CRSC Colloquia Series:

Ecologies of Dissent: Neighborhood Health and the Art of Relational Politics

Michael Montoya, Associate Professor of Chicano/Latino Studies and Anthropology, UC Irvine

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

Fall 2014

 September 2014

Tuesday, September 30


Political Therapeutics in Italy

Cristiana Giordano, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UC Davis

In this paper, I discuss the experience of Italian clinical ethno-psychiatry as an emerging technique that provides culturally appropriate therapeutic services exclusively to foreigners, political refugees, and victims of torture and trafficking. This clinical practice has a political impact on other Italian institutions (such as the Catholic Church, the police, and social services) involved in aid programs for foreigners that increasingly turn to ethno-psychiatrists to consult on how to shape culturally and psychologically appropriate interventions for foreigners. The specificity of Italian ethno-psychiatry, though, can only be understood against the backdrop of the debates around the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill and the radical critique of public institutions initiated by Franco Basaglia and the de-institutionalization movement in the early 1970s. Crucial to the Italian context is also the work of Antonio Gramsci and his reflections on the relationships between hegemony and subaltern cultures, in addition to the role of the organic intellectual in creating a field of political action that could involve subalterns in defining what counts as politics. Through an ethnography of clinical cases and interactions between ethno-psychiatrists and local communities, I show how these legacies intersect in the practice of Italian ethno-psychiatry in ways that are broadly relevant not only for the politics of alterity within clinical settings, but also for critiquing psychiatric, legal, and moral categories of inclusion. This clinical practice allows for a re-thinking of the political and phenomenological grounds of existence, while also offering a critical frame to issues of "global mental health."

Anna Head Alumnae Hall, 2537 Haste Street

Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues; co-sponsored by BCSM

 October 2014

 Tuesday, October 28


Protestant Techniques of Caring for the Self

Ian Whitmarsh, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, UCSF School of Medicine

In Trinidad, as in other countries, the state increasingly works with Protestant churches to disseminate biomedical techniques of maintaining health, conducting blood tests and teaching proper diet and body size.  I draw on recent rethinking of "the secular" to argue that ties between Presbyterianism and biomedical practices in Trinidad reveal a Protestantism latent in international techniques of care for the chronic disease subject.  Protestant endeavors have long focused on, the "involuntary poor" as a figure unable to enact proper choice, suggesting not a contradiction but rather a deep kinship between the liberal individual and the subject founded in economic, social, political structures. As international medical techniques implicitly carry out a Protestant care for the involuntary poor, new tensions are produced with traditions such as Hinduism and obeah that run counter to Christian logics.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues; co-sponsored by BCSM

 November 2014

 Thursday, November 6


Homosexual Mutants! Biases in the Neurobiological Study of Sexual Orientation

Erik Eckhert, MD/MS Student, UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Medical Program 

Lawrence Cohen, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley, as respondent

This work examines the space between biology and biological discourse by reflecting on the reemergence of antiquated sexological discourses in the contemporary basic science literature behind sex and sexual orientation, and attempts to disentangle the socio-scientific conditions that enable their persistence. It employs modified grounded theory to explore published works on the fruitless (fru) gene in Drosophila neurobiology, which is notable for being implicated in determining sex and sexual orientation in the flies and is the clearest example to date of a genetically programed biochemical signaling cascade controlling a specific set of (courtship) behaviors. With an emphasis on experimental design, data inclusion, and the interpretation of results, my analysis follows three interrelated thematic clusters: “Homosexual Mutants” problematizes claims about the fru male’s sexual orientation by calling into question the “heterosexuality” of wildtype males, the assumptions behind behavioral assays used to determine sexual orientation, and the tenets of Sexual Selection used to discursively disable or inferiorize queer organisms. “Sexing the Body” examines the techniques used to assign sex on sub-organismal scales, considers the effect this has on reifying the groundedness of sex as a biological concept, and traces the practice and effects of reducing sex to a male/female dichotomy in the fru field. “Making the Model Work– Disabling, Inverting, Passivizing” refuses and confuses the fru field’s ‘homosexual by broken sex detector model’ by looking at what’s really being detected by male flies and considering the interplay between discourses about sexuality and disability, sexual inversion and femininity. 

Room C108, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program and the Center for Science Technology Medicine and Society

 Thursday, November 13


Children at the Border, Children at the Margins: Health, Responsibility, and Immigration

Video of this event is available here.

Stefano M. Bertozzi, Dean and Professor of Health Policy & Management, Public Health, UC Berkeley

Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, Executive Director, CARECEN Central American Resource Center

Seth Holmes, Assistant Professor, Public Health and Medical Anthropology, UC Berkeley

Rubén Martínez, Journalist and Author of Desert America, Crossing Over, and The New Americans

Casey Peek, Producer of “New World Border”

Adrienne Pine, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, American University

Patricia Baquedano-LópezChair, Center for Latino Policy Research, and Associate Professor, Education, UC Berkeley, as moderator

While unaccompanied migrant children have been at the center of a media firestorm, journalists and politicians generally ignore the context, experiences, and health of these children. The children are portrayed as criminals or as victims of drug lords and gang members; both representations minimize the effects of historical and contemporary United States policies and interventions in Latin America. This panel discussion includes scholars and organizers who provide nuanced perspectives on the crisis, challenging the logics of detention and deportation. The panelists bring together anthropological, historical, public health, and policy analyses to put the health, well-being, and rights of migrant children at the center.

245 Li Ka Shing Center, UC Berkeley

Sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine and Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. Co-sponsored by Center for Latino Policy Research, Institute for the Study of Societal Issues and School of Public Health

Spring 2014

 March 2014

Tuesday, March 11


Inconceivable:  Where IVF Goes Bad

S. Lochlann Jain, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University

Nearly half of all Americans will be diagnosed with an invasive cancer—an all-too ordinary aspect of daily life. Through a powerful combination of cultural analysis and memoir, this stunningly original book explores why cancer remains so confounding, despite the billions of dollars spent in the search for a cure. Amidst furious debates over its causes and treatments, scientists generate reams of data—information that ultimately obscures as much as it clarifies. Award-winning anthropologist S. Lochlann Jain deftly unscrambles the high stakes of the resulting confusion. Expertly reading across a range of material that includes history, oncology, law, economics, and literature, Jain explains how a national culture that simultaneously aims to deny, profit from, and cure cancer entraps us in a state of paradox—one that makes the world of cancer virtually impossible to navigate for doctors, patients, caretakers, and policy makers alike. This chronicle, burning with urgency and substance leavened with brio and wit, offers a lucid guide to understanding and navigating the quicksand of uncertainty at the heart of cancer. Malignant vitally shifts the terms of an epic battle we have been losing for decades: the war on cancer.

ISSI Wildavsky Conference Room, 2538 Channing Way,

Co-sponsored by The Program in Medical Anthropology

Tuesday, March 18


The Press and the Press Release: Inventing the Crystal Meth-HIV Connection

Cindy Patton, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Cindy Patton is a longtime commentator on social aspects of the AIDS epidemic. An early member of the AIDS Action Committee of Boston and an advisor to community organizations in Vancouver, BC, she has been involved in community organizing around gay men's sexuality, research ethics, and media criticism. She is currently Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University (Canada), where from 2003-2013 she held the Canada Research Chair in Community, Culture and Health.

Abstract: From 1960s medical reports to the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis trials, Gay men have been persistently described as intransigent to sexual health advice. However, it is not at all clear that there has even been a sustained effort to provide basic sex education for gay men. In the late 1970s, the Carter Administration reversed its policy related to gay health research and training as a result of the Anita Bryant activism, a change of course repeated in 1987, when efforts to promote safe sex among gay men was defunded by the Helms Amendment. This paper is part of a longer project that traces the parallel history of the gay health movement and socio-medical claims about the sources of gay men's risk.

ISSI Wildavsky Conference Room, 2538 Channing Way, Berkeley

Co-sponsored by The Program in Medical Anthropology

Wednesday, March 19


Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States

Seth Holmes, Martin Sisters Endowed Chair, Assistant Professor of Health and Social Behavior, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley; Faculty Director of the Center for Social Medicine at ISSI

Based on five years of research in the field (including berry-picking and traveling with migrants back and forth from Oaxaca up the West Coast), this paper (and new book by the same name) explores how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care.  The paper examines structural and symbolic violence, medicalization, and the clinical gaze as they affect the experiences and perceptions of a vertical slice of indigenous Mexican migrant farmworkers, farm owners, doctors, and nurses. This work analyzes the ways in which socially structured suffering comes to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care, especially through imputations of ethnic body difference.

ISSI Wildavsky Conference Room, 2538 Channing Way, Berkeley

Co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

 April 2014

Wednesday, April 9


From Plants to Pills:  Take Bitter Roots for Malaria

Abena Osseo-Asare, Assistant Professor of History, UC Berkeley

How do plants become pharmaceuticals? In this talk, I examine the history of efforts to patent a treatment for malaria made from the bitter roots of fever vine (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta). Malaria is a serious health risk in tropical West Africa. In Ghana, where these bitter roots became known as "Ghana Quinine," a group of African scientists devoted their lives to creating a patented pharmaceutical from the plant. I consider their interactions with traditional healers from the 1940s, their struggles to establish a fledgling pharmaceutical industry, and the conflicts that complicated the success of the new drug in this postcolonial nation.  This little known historical case provides a window into recent controversies surrounding biodiversity prospecting in tropical environments, the rights of indigenous peoples to shared benefits, and the quest for pharmaceutical patents. It is drawn from my recently published book, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa.

Wildavsky Conference Room, ISSI, 2538 Channing Way

Co-Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

Fall 2013

 November 2013

Wednesday, November 6


Metrics of the Global Sovereign: Numbers and Stories in Global Health

Vincanne Adams, Professor, Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine, UCSF School of Medicine

The recent shift from International Health Development to Global Health Sciences in the now fifty-year-old post-colonial infrastructure of transnational health aid is not a simple substitution of new bottles for old wine.  Emergent trends in Global Health reveal more complex transformations in the practices of audit, funding, and intervention in the effort to improve health outcomes on a global scale.  One of the most important features of this shift has been the growing reliance on specific kinds of quantitative metrics that make use of evidence-based measures, experimental research platforms, and cost-effectiveness rubrics for even the most intractable problems and most promising interventions. Collectively these trends pose a problem of knowledge in relation to how we understand efficacy but also how we come to terms with the new “global sovereign” – a flexible assemblage of data production, number crunching and profit-sourcing that asks all exercises of intervention to work within its terms and limits.  At the same time, ethnography pushes us to see the remainder, or residuals, of these trends that appear as stories of single lives saved, struggles won and relationships emergent.  Stories carry an emotional surfeit that might be read as both antidote and engine in the markets of global health today, and this lecture offers preliminary insights about the study of such global health trends.

Anna Head Alumnae Hall, 2537 Haste Street

Co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

 October 2013

Wednesday, October 6


Neurocratic Futures in the Disability Economy: Pregnancy, Addiction and Mental Illness in the US Welfare State

Kelly Knight, Assistant Professor, Kocaeli University

Drawing on four years of ethnographic research, I will address a collision of politics, science, and social policy with historic roots in 1990s neoliberal welfare reform and current consequences in the everyday lives of addicted pregnant women. In 1997, the disallowance of substance use dependence as a qualifying, disabling health condition for Social Security Income (SSI) benefits spurned the development of a new disability economy. Despite widely accepted scientific evidence demonstrating the high frequency of mental illness and substance use disorder comorbidity, a new social actor, “the neurocrat,” was constructed to document mental health disorders in exception of substance use disorder for SSI applicants. Today, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar Disorder are diagnosed at very high frequency and the prescription of broad spectrum atypical antipsychotic medications is routine among homeless women. Clinically speaking, PTSD and Bipolar Disorder are difficult conditions to diagnose and treat in the presence of active substance use.  Yet the symptoms of these conditions - trauma, despair, rage and mania – are viewed as appropriate responses on the part of pregnant addicts to experiences of structural violence, social suffering, and housing instability. It is also well understood that accessing SSI welfare benefits through successful neurocratic disability claims enables the safety-net health care system while also ensuring access to subsidized housing, case management, and other social benefits. In this way, neurocrats make the madness of poverty socially legible. Neurocratic futures for pregnant addicts are now necessary and entrenched on both institutional and personal levels. They can ensure social recognition and material viability for pregnant addicts, as long as women can agree to be mentally disabled, rather than merely addicted and just poor.

Alumnae Hall, Anna Head Building A, 2537 Haste Street

Co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues

 September 2013

Wednesday, September 18


Narrative Without Language: Mental Health and the Invisibility of Care in South Africa

Leslie Swartz, Professor of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

At the heart of much of health care is the assumption, expectation, or hope, that at some level patients and clinicians understand one another, however incompletely. The fact is, however, that in many contexts, clinicians and patients speak different languages and there are no interpreters employed to help bridge the communication gap. South Africa has 11 official languages and is also committed to the development of South African Sign Language. Despite this, patients in many mental health settings have the same (or worse) linguistic access to care as was the case in the apartheid era. I sketch answers to the question of how it can be that this crucial aspect of care access can continue to be overlooked in a democratic country, especially as South Africa has a constitutional commitment to equal access and non-discrimination. There is a legacy of service provision from the apartheid era, and interpreting is currently undertaken by nurses, cleaners, security guards, and family members of patients, amongst others. I suggest that changing understandings of the nature of careers in the health field, international trends in mental health theory and practice towards crude biologism, and ongoing patterns of social exclusion and stigma, all contribute not only to a continuing state of compromised linguistic access to mental health care but also to processes of rendering invisible the actual work of care in the mental health field. In this context, institutions construct stories about patients without being able to speak to them directly. There are also stories constructed about the language access issue. These stories have changed and developed against the backdrop of institutional continuity embedded in dramatically changing political circumstances in South Africa. Preliminary data from a pilot interpreting project suggest that to expose the care issues at stake in informal interpreting is tantamount to shining a light on broader and more pervasive issues of exclusion and inequality in the health care system, and in South Africa as a whole. In this regard, I explore some of the discursive strategies my research group and I have used and are using in developing new initiatives to improve language access for patients.

221 Kroeber Hall Anthropology Department, UC Berkeley

Co-sponsored by the Program in Medical Anthropology and Disability Studies