Public Health, Anthropology, and Modernization in Twentieth-Century Latin America

AHA Session 39
Conference on Latin American History 10
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Wilson Room C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Julia E. Rodriguez, University of New Hampshire at Durham
Alexandra Maria Puerto, Occidental College

Session Abstract

Modernization efforts dominated Latin American policies and the work of health workers and social scientists in the twentieth century. National leaders and foreign agencies increasingly recognized that, in order to achieve their economic development and social integration goals, they had to improve the health and well-being of large rural populations. As health workers took on this daunting task, their on-the-ground experiences in the countryside challenged their assumptions about indigenous peoples and reshaped their approaches to healing, which ranged from Western-based medical care to treatments that incorporated local culture and beliefs about health, illness, cures, and the body. Health campaigns not only necessitated the learning of local languages but also medical customs and practices in order to present new health techniques in terms relatable to community members. This interdisciplinary panel combines historical, anthropological, and scientific perspectives on health campaigns in Peru, Mexico, and Bolivia in order to examine the delicate negotiation between health providers, social scientists, and indigenous groups at the beginning, middle and end of the twentieth century. Collectively, these papers seek to provide an analysis of the changing definitions of health and medicine in Latin America. In particular, they seek to problematize the work of national and international health workers, anthropologists and activists who sought to create medical knowledge about rural communities and develop health programs that would be meaningful to their recipients.

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