Health, Social Welfare, and Citizenship in the Americas, Part 1

AHA Session 57
Conference on Latin American History 11
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Alexandra Minna Stern, University of Michigan
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel examines the politics of health and social welfare in nineteenth and early twentieth century Latin America. With papers focused on the medical racialization of Mexican farmworkers in the United States, on the working poor in urban São Paulo, and on the families of the ‘disappeared’ in Argentina, panelists show how public health and medicine played a central role in social marginalization: in this case, racialized rural and urban groups, migrants, and perceived dissidents and their families. At the same time, the papers show that while public health and medical science served to legitimate unequal power relations (as U.S. health officials justified the marginalization of migrant bodies), it could also undermine those power relations (as activists claimed new rights to health and social services from the Brazilian dictatorship and Argentine human rights groups used novel genetics research to bring together families torn apart by forced disappearance).

This is one of two threaded panels about health, social welfare, and citizenship in the Americas. Going against the current of much of the recent work in the history of medicine in Latin America, which has provided excellent insights into transnational health organizations, local medical institutions, and the circulation of scientific knowledge, these panels look to the subaltern and non-state networks that shaped the health outcomes of non-elite actors as well as the new claims to health as a right of citizenship that animated social movements across the Americas. Together, these papers highlight how social rights are developed and contested at all levels of society. By putting Latin America at the heart of emerging global discussions of social rights, these panels help decenter Europe and North America as leading exponents of citizenship rights, and they add to a nascent body of scholarship that looks at how people in Latin America were active agents in articulating new ideas of social rights and citizenship in the twentieth century.

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