Andrea Maldonado

PhD Student in Anthropology

Brown University

Therapeutic (Re)Placements: Emergent Forms and Spaces of Care in Mexico City

This paper explores new forms of state-supported care among low-income Mexicans in relation to the places where they surface in Mexico City. In less than a decade, an assortment of so-called cultural therapies (from yoga to tai chi) has come to displace biomedicine as Mexico’s prescription of choice to prevent and treat what authorities identify as “culturally transmitted diseases” (such as diabetes and heart disease) among the urban poor. These measures take shape in both clinical and non-clinical locations, including hospitals, centers of civic culture, parks, and public streets. The growth of this campaign—which blames sickness on the culture of urban poor people—raises questions about how states distinguish certain conditions as cultural diseases while promoting particular types and places of care. This analysis is part of a larger project that investigates the nuances and contradictions of this “turn to culture,” suggesting that in spite of its appeal, it may be exacerbating aspects of inequality in health care. In this paper I examine the ways the enactment of cultural healing in place encourages new techniques of self-care and new sites of social differentiation. I suggest that health services constituted outside clinical settings, but operating with institutional legitimacy, can generate new social exchanges—even as they also promote novel practices of state and expert surveillance.

Andrea Maldonado is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Brown University. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa and the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City where she is conducting dissertation fieldwork. Her research investigates the intersections of culture and health in urban Mexico by examining the seemingly paradoxical rise of state-subsidized extra-medical therapeutic and preventive care in an era when privatization of health care is the trend.


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