Accepted paper:

How many bodies?


Emily Yates-Doerr (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

The field of medical anthropology has long divided ‘the body’ into three: individual, social, and political. Through an examination of agricultural and clinical health in Guatemala, this paper asks what the future of the field would look like if bodies were not ontologically enumerated.

Paper long abstract:

Nearly three decades ago, Scheper-Hughes and Lock charted a future for medical anthropology in which 'the body' was made into three: one individual, one social, and one political. The three bodies, ostensibly interfering with the Cartesian mind/body dichotomy, today appear rooted in the very boundaries they sought to disrupt. This paper ethnographically details the division drawn between agricultural practice and medical care in an obesity clinic in the highlands of Guatemala to analyze the everyday life consequences of binding bodies into discrete, thereby numerable, ontological units. It examines how medical anthropology continues to be limited by a persistent desire to count bodies, three or otherwise, and how this interplays with the ways in which public health care systems are also organized. I illustrate how radically situating care - that is, expanding it to various worlds rather than confining it to an enumerable world - reconfigures both the practice of health care and the possible futures of medical anthropology. The argument I present is not that bodies are 'more than one, less than many.' Rather, in the case of Guatemalan dietary practice that I unpack, an emphasis on the very possibility of more or less was linked to a Euro-American tradition in which bodies can be cleanly bounded. In the case I explore, for reasons that are both theoretical and clinical, counting bodies did not make much sense.

panel P17
Repositioning health, illness and the body: the challenge of new theoretical approaches to medical anthropology