Anthropologist

SFAA panel, Portland

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

For the 2019 SFAA meetings, I organized a panel, titled: “Presumed Utility: Translating and Unpacking Applied Lexicons” (see below). Emily Yates-Doerr, Sarah Trainer (with Alex Brewis and Cindi SturtzSreetharan), Jenna Grant, Lesley Jo Weaver (with Purina Madhivanan and Karl Krupp) and Betsy Brada will all give papers. Hanna Garth and I will present a paper titled, "On the Limitations of Barriers: Social Visibility andWeight Managementin Cuba and Samoa" (abstract below).

Panel abstract: Medical anthropology is often presumed to have a utility —to make anthropology relevant to the world through discoveries in health, medicine, and healthcare. This presumption suggests that collaboration or knowledge translation is a straight forward process, from one discipline to the next with a steady lexicon. Barriers, risk, collaboration are all thought to be self-evident objects or practices. Teaching medical anthropology in health professions education is also widely thought to be a new necessary for diverse professional tracks. Yet, as medical anthropologists, we spend little time questioning how the presumption of a shared language may hinder communication in some ways and grow opportunities in other directions. The panel draws together applied anthropologist, biological anthropologists, and medical anthropologists, to explore the presumed utility of cultural accounts of health. The panel explores the medicalization embedded in this process (see Browner 1999), while also exploring instances when lexicons converge in places ranging from (but not limited to) the United States, Samoa, Guatemala and Cambodia. Ultimately, the panel explores the value of more explicit articulation of this process of translation as providing a place for critical accounts and practice-oriented research to find points of connection.

Paper abstract: Obesity is growing global health challenge. Research on obesity reduction has focused on barriers, erroneously assuming that the removal of barriers would lead to obesity reduction. Using a comparative ethnographic approach between Cuba and Samoa, we move away from barriers to analyze obesity and overweight through the lens of social consequencesas a way to understand the persistent failure of obesity interventions. Comparing these two places with very different histories of obesity interventions, we trace how overweight and obesity make people socially visible, specifically analyzing how gender and economic inequalities shape the sociality of obesity.

Book talk and Master Seminar, Center for Regional Food Studies, University of Arizona

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On March 26th, I will give a book talk and a working paper at the Master Seminar organized by the Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona.

“Salvation and Metabolism: Cardiometabolic Disorders in Samoa”

Rates of cardiometabolic disorders have been rising since the 1950s across Oceania. In Samoa, obesity, diabetes, hypertension rates range from 40% to 50% of the population. At the same time, Pentecostal Christian churches began to grow across Samoa as well. Based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, this talk will explore how salvational and metabolic logics have become entwined across clinics, churches and households. Pentecostal faith practices position the body as an intermediary space where people can come to know God as the body provides evidence of that relationship. The body’s fluctuations mirror fluctuations in faith, and for Pentecostals faith is something that is always challenged by external (and often considered evil) forces. This flux in the body follows a logic of metabolism, where bodily flux reflects the increasingly unpredictable embodied processes related to food consumption. Samoan Pentecostals thus decussated fluctuations in “sugar” (blood glucose) and “blood” (high or low blood pressure) as reflections of emotional states, depression, anger, stress. Faith and metabolism interconnected in everyday practice as they both provided novel frameworks from which to understand environmental change—in food, land use, labor—revealing their similarities as (biomedical and religious) metaphors for situating the body in context. For examples, I will talk about conversion, narrative and healing practices as articulations of the interrelatedness of salvational and metabolic logics. To conclude, I will offer some reflections on the temporal dynamics that articulate the similarities of these logics, and introduce future research more specifically focused on this theme.

"Places and Their Objects: Plantations and the Problem of Vegetables in Samoa”

This paper examines the relationship between plantations (small family gardens) and vegetables (mostly introduced) in Samoa. I describe how Samoans remember, imagine and inhabit these spaces, and then show how vegetables are materials grown in plantations but not of plantations. In other words, vegetables are a problem because they are increasingly required in to order to achieve “health” while also out of place. Vegetables value come not only from connection (as is typical of local food movements), but lack of connection to the plantation. This article questions how vegetables have become a sign of health and brings attention to the ways that this sign can be detrimental to health, thus questioning the naturalness of the category of vegetables. This paper is thus about the relationship between place (the plantation) and their objects (vegetables) and how those relations comes together. While plantations sustain families, spirits, and churches, vegetables promise an individually healthy future—one that seems just out of reach to most Samoans. Vegetables become the vehicle through which health is experienced as never achievable. Affect brings the experience of striving towards the unachievable into view.

ASAO at the University of Auckland

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

For the working session, Healthy Islands-Healthy People: Examining Health Promotion Programs and NCDs in the Pacific, organized by Fepulea’i Micah Van der Ryn, Jemaima Tiatia-Seath and Barbara Andersen, I presented the paper: “Elemental Eating: Samoan Public Health and Valuation in Health Promotion” (forthcoming The Contemporary Pacific).

In this article, we suggest that indigenous foods are valorized and expanded through their re-signification as nutritious as they are presented in Samoan health promotion campaigns. These campaigns elucidate how public health selectively valorizes culture, while expanding the category to include non-indigenous fruits and vegetables, and in turn reshapes meanings associated with indigenous foods as related to health. We first presented material that demonstrates the impact of health promotion materials on food knowledge. We highlight how nutrition as a value dominates official accounts and then explore health promotion media that encouraged viewers to deconstruct food into constitutive parts, particularly negative nutrients like fat and salt. We call this elemental eating, which mutes the distinction between imported, new foods and indigenous, local foods by foregrounding components. Finally, we examine a media campaign that presents the new food category, mea’ai paleni, as a hybrid of indigenous and local foods. Health promotion in this context revalued indigenous foods, and expanded the category, by promoting a scientistic framework for interpreting nutrition. This interpretive framework reorganizes food categories from strictly new, imported foods and local, indigenous foods, to healthy and unhealthy foods, both reflecting epidemic discourses in local media and scholarship while also complicating the typical epidemiological representation of the “nutrition transition.”

ESFO in Cambridge

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

At the European Society of Oceanists meetings in Cambridge I will participate on a panel organized by Holly Wardlow, Fabienne Labbé, and Alice Servy titled "Inequalities in Health: Pacific Perspectives." I will give a revised version of my AAA paper focused on the fetishtic role of vegetables in health promotion in Samoa.

AAAs in San Jose

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

This year I organized a panel, titled "Bodies and their Materials: Creating and critiquing “good” care" with Chelsea Wentworth. I am also giving a paper on the panel, "Chronic disaster: Reimagining Diet-Related Disease As Structural Violence" organized by Megan Carney and Emily Yates-Doerr. Finally, I will serve as a discussant for the panel titled: "Resisting Biomedicine: Politics, Practices, and Logics of Care," organized by Zakea Boeger.

 

Bodies and their Materials: Creating and critiquing “good” care

At the intersection of the study of food, nutrition, and medicine, this panel examines how “good” care is reflected and evaluated by community members and health care professionals through embodied social experiences. Anthropology's engagement with embodiment offers a reminder to the discipline that experience is materially grounded; humans create culture through and with their bodies. We revisit this to ask how change is tracked by people through their bodies and the materials that mediate bodies such as food, medication, or other substances consumed to promote health. We explore how embodied experiences reflect patterns of resistance, resilience and adaptation over time, either through the lifecourse, or in relation to shifting political, social, and environmental contexts. As a foundation of social relationships, these embodied critiques inform moral notions of “good” care, “good” clinical encounters, and “good” kinship practices. An abstract concept, the idea of “good” care signals particular practices, institutions, and people while simultaneously indexing embodied experiences of places and feelings. To feel cared for, or to feel one is appropriately caring for the self, references a specific set of practices that articulate moral values. At the intersection of the moral notion of “good” care and the materiality of consuming food and medicine, physical bodies are displayed, critiqued, and evaluated through a variety of social experiences. Bodies then become the sites through which communities, health care workers, and kin evaluate the quality of care the body receives from others and from the self. This panel explores how particular embodied experiences--around eating, sickness, and health---are translated into knowledge, and how this knowledge is used to reflect ideas of health. Papers in this panel address concepts of identity creation through food consumption, fusion foodways, the embodied practice of preparing food and feeding others, embodied motherhood, and mothering with chronic illness. With regional expertise from the Pacific Islands, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, the papers presented here place ideas of embodied care in cross-cultural conversation. Bodily signs can serve as evidence of resistance, resilience and adaptation, thus creating an embodied grounding for social critique. We ask how do embodied experiences shape people’s understandings of social change? In what ways are embodied signs, or biomedical symptoms, central to how people articulate social transformation or stasis? How do individuals and communities express their resiliency in the face of external pressures or stressors? What methods are individuals and communities using to adapt to social and/or ecological changes, and how are these experiences expressed in bodily form? Using our anthropological imagination, this set of papers illustrate how individuals and communities are responding to changes in the embodied expression of “good” care. 

Problems of Faith: Vegetables, Healthy Diets and Pentecostal Healing 

In the Samoan islands there has been a steady rise of cardiometabolic disorders since the 1950s and has been a site of over 30 years of epidemiological research, which have led to public interventions developed from this research base. Health promotion materials are ubiquitous, encouraging eating less and exercising more, stressing the importance of eating a vegetable-based diet and embracing planation labor as a form of fitness. All of these messages locate responsibility in a choice-model of health. Samoan public health, in an effort develop community-engagement, positions churches as partners or sites for “culturally appropriate” health promotion. However, Pentecostal churches are not considered ‘culturally appropriate” sites for this delivery, and yet, Pentecostals have a critical position on the so-called NCD epidemic. Drawing attention to the relationship between the social world and the spirit, Pentecostals brings into focus multiple and flexible etiologies derived from the basic logic that environments and relationships permeate the body in ways that create sickness and health. Instead of blaming individuals, Pentecostals talked about social barriers to health, in turn transforming the problem of food, fat, and fitness into a problem of faith. Through Pentecostal healing, Pentecostals came to identify their source of suffering in the social world where relationships—social, structural, economic—penetrated the body. Bringing together distinct anthropological ways of approaching illness—from the anthropology of Christianity and medical anthropology—shows the creative ways that structural limitations are negotiated by those living with cardiometabolic disorders.

 

AAAs Washington D.C.

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

At the 2017 American Anthropological Association meetings, I will present a paper titled: "Pentecostal Freedom Discourses: Health Responsibility and Negotiating Agency in Samoa." The paper is part of a panel, organized by Mary Good, titled "Reconciling Roles, Responsibilities, and Matters of Value." Susanna Trnka and Catherine Trundle will serve as discussants. Abstract below.

Across Samoa, refusing food or food gifts for health reasons––what would be considered a responsible thing to do to manage one’s health––proved to be a “practical impossibility” for most (Carr 2015: 281). In this context of population wide rates of cardiometabolic disorders––diabetes, hypertension, obesity––I focus on how Pentecostal Samoans used the language of freedom to reflect on these practical impossibilities. Freedom discourses drew attention to the social context of eating and feeding––providing some with a way to talk about the limitations of individual agency in cases when people had to accept gifts or feed others in culturally valorized ways. I explore how Pentecostals use the language of freedom to talk about the social limitations of choice and the ways that those limitations impact health. To be free was to discursively free oneself of the exigencies of social context, creating a Christian framework for both talking about the limitations of individual agency while simultaneously valorizing efforts towards cultivating individual agency. This paper draws from recent work by Ilana Gershon, Susanna Trnka, and Catherine Trundle to explore how these freedom discourses challenge biomedical discourses that tend to naturalize individual responsibility. Ultimately, I argue that Pentecostals used freedom discourses to create an epidemiological narrative that highlighted the complex social, economic, and ecological interactions that have created contexts where the rates of cardiometabolic disorders are so high. 

Ecology and Culture University Seminar, Columbia University

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

October 5, 2017

For this seminar I will present Chapter Two from my book manuscript, Faith and the Pursuit of Health. Biospirituality and Discerning Risk situates the reader within some of the daily contradictions that arise around eating and feeding others when staples foods have changed, influencing the meanings of fat and fitness. I propose thinking about this process as biospirituality, a framework for exploring the ways that Christianity provides pathways to create well-being, and sometimes health, by making health actions a form of religious practice. In this chapter, I also explore the globalization of cardiometabolic disorders, outlining macro political and economic changes and global trends in order to unpack how these broader dynamics are articulated in Samoa. 

Anthropology Seminar, University of Auckland

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

June 1, 2017

Freedom and the Impossibilities of Health Responsibility in Samoa

Across Samoa, refusing food or food gifts for health reasons––what would be considered a responsible thing to do to manage one’s health––proved to be a “practical impossibility” for most (Carr 2015: 281). In this context of population wide rates of cardiometabolic disorders––diabetes, hypertension, obesity––I focus on how Pentecostal Samoans used the language of freedom to reflect on these practical impossibilities. Freedom discourses drew attention to the social context of eating and feeding––providing some with a way to talk about the limitations of individual agency in cases when people had to accept gifts or feed others in culturally valorized ways. I explore how Pentecostals use the language of freedom to talk about the social limitations of choice and the ways that those limitations impact health. To be free was to discursively free oneself of the exigencies of social context, creating a Christian framework for both talking about the limitations of individual agency while simultaneously valorizing efforts towards cultivating individual agency. This paper draws from recent work by Ilana Gershon, Susanna Trnka, and Catherine Trundle to explore how these freedom discourses challenge biomedical discourses that tend to naturalize individual responsibility. Ultimately, I argue that Pentecostals used freedom discourses to create an epidemiological narrative that highlighted the complex social, economic, and ecological interactions that have created contexts where the rates of cardiometbaolic disorders are so high.

Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology, University of Washington

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

March 31, 2017, "Discerning Risk: How Cardiometabolic Macro-trends Make Well-being Invisible in Samoa"

The Samoan islands face unpredicted rates of cardiometabolic disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and hypertension. The Pacific Islands more generally have become the focus of sophisticated and historically significant research about what scholars have called the nutrition or epidemiological transition. Research on these disorders in the islands, tend to focus on three main factors that influence health behaviors: wealth increases in the region; fat positivity; and changes in labor patterns leading to decreased physical activity. Indeed, macro-level changes related to urbanization, migration and a changing food environment have all contributed to population-wide rates of cardiometabolic disorders. However, these trends dont explain the daily struggles that people face when the materials that once indexed wellness, like food and fat, can now also index sickness. Instead of straightforward valorizations of food and fat, as literature on the epidemiological transition might suggest, I saw ambivalence and anxiety about reciprocity and hierarchy communicated through discussions of these materials. Ambiguity around the meaning of health is often left out of the discussion of the emergence of cardiometabolic disorders worldwide but is essential to understanding the rise of these disorders and effective methods for preventing them. In this talk, I parse out three enduring contradictions that show that discerning cardiometabolic risk a social process of interpreting bodies and relationships: to be wealthy and poor places you are risk; foods that have historically created well-being, now place individuals at risk for developing cardiometabolic disorders; and fat can mean both power, generosity, and generativity and potentially laziness, sickness, and moral corruption. 

 

Medical Anthropology and Global Health Seminar, University of Washington

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On October 12, 2016 I will present a paper titled "Cultivating Health, Deferring Agency: Samoan Christian Perspectives of Chronic Metabolic Illness" at the MAGH seminar, University of Washington.

I will discuss instances when health maintenance practices––like diet, physical activity, and pharmaceutical intake––were interpreted through the lens of Samoan Pentecostal Christian ideas about wellness. Stories recounting illness and conversion experiences, healing prayers, or salvation prayers during hospital stays all provide viewpoints from which to understand how religious change––that is, being born-again––was measured through health. Here I draw a distinction between health and wellness to foreground how the everyday management of food, fat, and fitness required learning a new set of health techniques around weight management, diet, physical activity, and pharmaceutical use. Metabolic disorders require those living with them to develop an awareness of health that is metrics-centric, attending to how sugar, fat, and salt affect weight, glucose and blood pressure. Adopting a metric-centric notion of food, fat, and fitness privileges universally derived norms around the metrics of metabolic health––BMI, glucose, blood pressure––as key indicators of health at the expense of situational contexts like relationships, environment, and enduring inequalities that shape health. These health techniques include being mindful of nutritional intake––that is learning to see foods like taro, chicken, chips, or cucumbers in terms of nutritional elements like sugar, fat, or salt or nutrients and vitamins. Health techniques also include seeing the body as a system regulated by inputs and outputs––30 minutes of exercise is a way to balance caloric intake. The metrics of health, however, did not play a large role in everyday life in Samoa (e.g., there were no at-home glucometers and scales were not widely available), yet in clinical environments health practitioners still advised patients in a metric-centric way by encouraging patients to change metabolic metrics––lose weight, reduce sugar and fat intake. These kinds of techniques required individuals to act in ways that foregrounded their individual health efforts, for example, by using resources for pharmaceuticals or doctor visits or by changing family meals around individual dietary restrictions, which proved difficult in daily life. Instead, I found that people deferred to God’s agency as a way to change health techniques by placing these techniques within a broader effort towards creating Christian wellness.

 

AAAs in Minneapolis

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On Wednesday, November 16th, I will present a paper titled: "Saved/Healed: Samoan Pentecostalism and Metabolic Evidence" (see abstract below) for a panel I have co-organized with Risa Cromer titled "Saving: Evidence of/for Preserving and Restoring Life, Health, and Values." Other panel participants include: Britt Halvorson, Anna Corwin, and Dana-Ain Davis. Susan Falls and Ian Whitmarsh will serve as discussants. 

Saved/Healed: Samoan Pentecostalism and Metabolic Evidence
The Samoan islands are globally associated with the “obesity epidemic,” where rates ofmetabolic disorders, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, continue to rise in the Samoan islands. Anthropologically, Samoa is often evoked as an example of a place where fat is highly valued and this is often suggested to be a reason for the so-called obesity epidemic. Fat positively reflects Samoan perspectives on the body, which suggest the fat body is a mediating material between the sacred and humans. Metabolic disorders disrupt this logic; fat no longer strictly indicates wealth or wellness, but can also indicates disease and poverty. Metabolism provides Pentecostals ways to understand health as evidence of transcendence and sickness as evidence of distance from God. Healing, like the mercurial quality of metabolism, is fleeting; it is only sustainable in relation to one’s faith, which is constantly tested. Metabolism is, therefore, a way to materially ground the changing nature of faith. The incremental changes in glucose, blood pressure, or weight provide evidence of the ongoing process of healing, registering the incremental success of healing. In this light, the metabolic body is a sensitive system that mediates social, emotional, and spiritual––rendering visible that which is invisible (i.e., sugar, blood).

 

SFAA in Vancouver, BC

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On March 30, I will present a paper titled "Applying Christian Logic: Fat, Metabolic Disorders, and Social Support" (see below) on the panel "Fat Matters: Applied Aspects of Obesity Research" organized by Nicole Taylor and Eileen Anderson-Fye. Other participants include: Sarah Trainer, Alex Brewis, Amber Wutich, Lisa RubinStephanie McClure and discussant Kathryn Oths.

Applying Christian Logic: Fat, Metabolic Disorders, and Social Support
Scholars and practitioners have long identified the church as a point of access to communities and, increasingly, religious practice as a source of health-giving properties. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in healthcare and Pentecostal churches in Samoa, this paper explores potential synergies between obesity prevention and Christianity. First, I explore the differences between engaging religiously-based health logics and utilizing the church as a site for program development. Then I examine social support in Pentecostal practice as a religiously-based mode of achieving wellness, which is often directed at changing behaviors to heal metabolic disorders, or lose weight. 

 

AAA in Denver

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

For the 2015 AAA in Denver, I will present a paper titled: "Freedom and Stress: Pentecostal Expressions of Christian Difference in Samoa" as part of the panel: "The Difference Denominations Make: Christian Sociality and Institutional Form," organized by Courtney Handman and Minna Opas. Other panelists include Jon Bialecki and Scott MacLochlainn. Joe Webster will serve as discussant.

Abstract: In the context of rapid epidemiological change and rising concern for diabetes, hypertension and obesity, many Samoans struggle to understand this change. This epidemiological change has occurred along side another change: the rise in Pentecostal churches since the 1950s. In this paper, I focus on this intersection through an analysis of the discursive constructions of denominational difference articulated through discussions of freedom and stress. Many Pentecostals discuss the difference between mainstream Protestant or Catholic Christianity by drawing attention to the experience of freedom, which is thought to accompany conversion. Freedom discourses highlight authentic and spontaneous subject formation so typical of Protestant Christianity, however, these discourses also work to draw attention to the financial, temporal, and food resource obligations of mainstream Christianity––in other words mainstream church-based obligations are cast as contrary to freedom. By contrasting freedom and obligation, Pentecostals create powerful critiques of denominational difference through the self-work associated with Protestant Christianity. By extension, many Pentecostal Christians draw from medicalized ideas of stress to connect obligation with metabolic sickness. This logic suggests that when cash, time, and food are directed away from the household to church, this enhances economic vulnerability, which in turn makes people feel stress and eat “unhealthy” foods. I argue that articulations denominational difference enables a Pentecostal critique to emerge that connects rising economic inequalities with metabolic disorders. Articulations of Christian difference provide a way for Pentecostals to locate the bi-directional relationship between stress, inequalities, and metabolic disorders in everyday practices, anxieties, and suffering.

SAR in San Diego

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On Friday April 17th, I will present a paper titled: "Discerning the Sick Body: Embodied Evidence and Critical Christianity in Samoa" for a panel titled "Politics of Discernment in Christian Practice" organized by Fred Klaits and James Bielo.  

Abstract: In Samoa, rising rates of metabolic disorders are interpreted by evangelical Christians as evidence of the need for (re)Christianization. Samoan Pentecostal Christians critique mainline Christianity as a source of suffering, and often posit a relationship between church-based exchange (i.e., public gift-giving) and metabolic disorders (i.e., diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease). Pentecostal Christians have developed an “analytics” of metabolic disorders linking health, wellness, and wealth with divine presence, on the one hand, and disease and wealth with divine distance, on the other. Notably, wealth can indicate wellness or sickness. In this paper, I explore how the body—sick or well, lean or corpulent—is used as an evidentiary medium to discern the ethics of wealth. Reading the body, consumption, and wealth is a form of critical abstraction, which locates material evidence in individual bodies while grounding a institutional critique of mainline Christianity in those same bodies. 

ESFO in Brussels

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

I have co-organized a panel titled: "The Clinical Way: Exploring Biomedicine and Public Health in the Pacific" with Barbara Andersen for the European Society for Oceanists meeting to be held  from the 24th to the 27th of June in Brussels. Panelists include: Melanie Dembinsky, Fabienne Labbé, Jacqueline Leckie, Daniela Heil, Gaia Cottino, Mike Poltorak, Katherine Lepani, Patricia Fifita, and John Patu

I will present a paper titled: "Good Foods and Foods Good for Health: Hunger, Desire, and Metabolic Disorders in Samoa." 

Abstract: In Samoa, where rates of obesity and metabolic disorders are very high, the meaning of good food is in flux. Against this backdrop, changing food habits was a topic of major concern in public health campaigns, aid agendas, everyday life, and clinical encounters. These concerns centered on questions like: How are habits formed? How can Samoans change their habits in order to change their diets? What about taste? Based on interviews with diabetes patients,  I explore how many differentiated between “good food” (i.e., fatty, salty, and sugary foods) and “food good for health” (i.e., lean meats, fruits, and vegetables). This differentiation, I argue, allowed patients to express fear of hunger and desire for satiety. As a result, despite knowledge of foods good for health, many still craved good foods. This research makes two primary contributions. First, this research introduces theoretical frameworks for examine hunger in the context of obesity research. Second, the distinction between good food and food good for health illuminates the structural and cultural influences on food choice by highlighting the intersection of the changing food environment and Samoan food values. Finally, the idiom of craving and embodied desire, which I explore, counter noncompliance discourses by examining the ways that food choice is experienced as constrained.

Yale Ethnography and Social Theory Colloquium

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On December 3, I have been invited to the Yale Ethnography and Social Theory Colloquium. I will talk about the intersection of Christian conversion and illness narratives. 

 

Embedded Narratives: Pentecostal Conversion and Metabolic Illness in Samoa

Medical anthropologists have long explored illness narratives as a discursive mode for re-creating an identity disrupted or spoiled by disease. Simply put, disease interrupts self-identity, which requires self-work to repair. In Samoa, where metabolic disorders, including diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease, are often asymptomatic, the experience of illness does not disrupt everyday life. Instead, everyday life is disrupted by efforts to heal those illnesses. Metabolic disorders are particularly difficult to heal in the cultural context of Samoa because required “lifestyle” changes challenge common Samoan practices of well-being, including food-sharing, feeding, and values of physical stillness.

 In this talk, I explore embedded narratives: illness narratives embedded in Christian conversion narratives. While illness narratives provide sick persons the tools to re-create their identities, conversion narratives embedded in illness narratives imbue narrators with divine authority to change their health. I problematize the ego-centrism of illness narratives by examining a narrative genre that displaces individual agency in favor of divine agency. This displacement, I argue, is essential to how many Samoans accommodate the pressures to change individual “lifestyle,” as they are advised by their physicians and nurses, while also critiquing the individualism inherent to that advice.

 

ASAO in Santa Fe

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

Mary Good and I have organized an informal session for the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania meetings in 2015. The session is titled Friendship: Subjectivity, Idioms of Relationality and Change.

Participants include Ping-Ann Addo, Babara Anderson, Tate Lefevre, and David Troolin. Deborah Gewertz and Fred Errington will serve as discussants.

While kinship is widely regarded as a classic domain of ethnographic research, other crucial relationships – including friendships and peer-oriented relationships – have received relatively less anthropological attention until recent decades. Relationships between peers, whether friends, colleagues or trading partners, also have significant impact in the creation and maintenance of contemporary communities and publics. Friendships and other intimate relationships can be taken as overlapping the realm of kinship (in the case of relatives with whom close friendships are shared), but range more broadly to encompass forms of sociality extending beyond filial bonds. In the Pacific region, friendships and peer relationships have been a critical part of expanding linguistic and social networks, carrying out symbolic and economic trading activities, and building political connections. In recent years, many of these relationships have emerged as responses to global changes in expectations about aging, gender, and sociality as well as transformations in economic, urban, and educational contexts. Scholarship also suggests such relationships, under conditions or contexts of change, might develop in particularly globalized forms, including egalitarian friendship.

 

AAA in Washington, D.C.

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

For the 2014 AAA I organized a panel titled: "Medicalizing Religion, Spiritualizing Medicine: Producing Knowledge at the Intersections" (see abstract below). Participants include Emily Wentzell, Tyler Zoanni, Tsipy Ivry, and George Laufenberg. Pamela Klassen and Stacey Langwick will serve as discussants.

Medicalization, in which social problems are transformed into medical problems and the authority to discipline and heal bodies is transferred to (bio)medicine, continues to expand the jurisdiction of (bio)medicine globally. However, scholars are critiquing totalizing understandings of medicalization, examining contested and incomplete adoption of medical approaches and identifying the ways people incorporate multiple meaning systems into biomedically-oriented understandings of experience. This panel extends such inquiry by exploring how people enact medicalization in everyday religious life, an arena of experience often seen as incompatible with biomedical practice. Through ethnographic exploration of the ways that people combine biomedical and spiritual worldviews in practice, in sacred, clinical, and daily life settings, we illustrate ways that medicalization can intersect with religion to generate situated knowledges and related experiences of bodies, sickness, and suffering. Here, panelists working from diverse theoretical backgrounds including medical and psychological anthropology, religious studies, and science and technology studies address intersections between medicalization and spirituality in a range of world regions and religions. The panel explores medicalization not as an end-state but as a process that people might incorporate into spiritual practice to further both biomedical and spiritual ends. Ivry and Zoanni address how religious stances, projects, and worldviews are articulated and realized through the deployment of medicalized knowledge, through studies of reproductive decision making among observant Jews in Israel and disabilities ministries in the United States. Hardin investigates how spiritual and medical evidence of metabolic disorders is constructed among evangelical Christians in Samoa. Finally, Wentzell explores how the intersection of medicalization and religion informs health and medical decision making, with focused attention on gender, in relation to HPV in Mexico. By examining daily life relationships between medicalization and religion, these papers reveal interconnections between the ostensibly separate realms of secular healthcare and spirituality, opening new avenues for studying medicalization as an aspect of more complex personal responses to sickness, social inequality, and social suffering. By bringing together areas of anthropological inquiry often pursued separately, this panel responds to the meeting's theme of “producing anthropology” by ethnographically examining medicalization as a multidimensional process. The panel also bridges anthropological sub-disciplines in order to think creatively about the impact of these findings on the possibilities for partnerships, between and within the communities in which we work, and between and within scholarly disciplines.

 

SCA in Detroit

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

At the 2014 SCA conference, I will be giving a paper on the panel, "Cajoling Crisis: The Uses and Abuses of a Slippery Concept" organized by Daniel Souleles. My paper is titled: "Critique and the (un)Productivity of Wealth: Gift-giving, Tithing and Christian Debate in Samoa."

Abstract: In Samoa, as elsewhere in Oceania, there is a sense of decline iterated by diverse Samoans. Strikingly, evangelical Christians share a critique with (often mainstream Christian) urban elites who both identify a “false economy” operating at the level of government, chiefly leadership, and church institutions. The critique draws attention the importance of publics in the performance of wealth and a corollary lack of productive or redistributive wealth. For evangelical Christians, in particular, mainstream church giving is problematized. The logic of mainstream church giving is that congregants publicly serve God by giving to/through the pastor. The pastor acts as a mediator between congregants and God. Evangelical churches posit giving is personal and direct between individual Christians and God. The productivity of wealth is predicated on individual giving that is ethically motivated; this stands in contrast to giving that is publicly motivated. Corollary critiques are made of government spending and chiefly ritual exchange by evangelical and mainstream Christians. In this paper I analyze newspaper-based debates about offerings, tithing, and gift-giving in church to parse how the (un)productivity of wealth is imagined in relation to discourses of decline. These debates articulate what Elizabeth Povinelli calls “ordinary, chronic, and cruddy rather than catastrophic, crisis-laden and sublime” suffering (2011: 3). I argue that critique as a cultural practice is part of an everyday politics/practices of crisis.