Accepted Paper:

Aesthetic triage: cosmetic surgery as an experimental medical technology in Brazil  

Author:

Alexander Edmonds (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil’s plastic surgery clinics and public hospitals, this paper shows how new medical technologies get incorporated into consumer, sexual, and aesthetic modes of self-governance.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil's plastic surgery clinics and public hospitals, this paper shows how new medical technologies get incorporated into consumer, sexual, and aesthetic modes of self-governance. Brazil has become a global leader in plastic surgery, a prime destination for medical tourism and an innovator in surgical technique. Brazil is also unusual in providing practical training in cosmetic procedures to residents and free operations to what surgeons call the "popular classes." I track how plastic surgery -known simply as plástica - is emerging as an experimental and didactic practice in this environment. Surgeons in residence from Brazil, Latin America, and beyond get invaluable training and develop new techniques in the "messy conditions" of Brazil's busy public hospitals with long patient lines. And patients also absorb through their interactions in clinics and via the enormous media coverage of plástica a particular way of working on the self-body. In a context of scarcity, patients practice "aesthetic triage," re-prioritizing their preferences for particular procedures in response to pedagogical needs of the clinic. Much literature on biopolitics emphasizes the use of notions of normal and pathological to control populations, discipline bodies, and enforce various norms of class, race, and gender. But I argue that the positive, analogical, encompassing notion of "aesthetic health" here involves a process of self-care that transcends the boundaries of medical institutions, and is infused with the desires and anxieties of Brazil's neoliberal economy and sophisticated culture industries.

Panel W040
Anthropological perspectives on the establishment of new medical technologies