Anthropologist

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 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.

AES in Boston

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

At the 2014 AES conference, I organized a panel titled: "Visibilization and Concealment: Social Critique and Anthropologies of Value.” Panelists include: Daniel Souleles, Lucy Norris, Nusrat Chowdhury, Ping-Ann Addo, Nina Sylvanus, and Mrinalini Tankha. Elizabeth Ferry and Caitrin Lynch will serve as discussants. My paper is titled: “It’s almost like paying for praying:” Alternative Economies of Blessings and Valuation Practices.

Abstract: Ritual exchange practices in church and among kin is on of the institutional ways that families and networks are sustained and created in Samoa. However, church-based gift giving is critiqued in whispers, editorial articles, and in evangelical sermons. In this paper I ask why is reciprocity criticized now? Why do people feel vulnerable? Why is church reciprocity to blame for such a host of social ills? Contrasting the church’s capacity to be a burden and a blessing articulates a conflict between value and values in Samoa today. Value, as Miller and Graeber note, has two contrasting meanings: value as price and economic worth, which is measurable, and values as proper and good, which is priceless. Contestation emerges as how to best practice and create value that serves values. I trace “what value does” (Miller 2006: 1122) in gift-exchange and tithing to bring different values into being. I also draw from Graeber’s distinctions between open and closed reciprocity to examine why church-gift-giving is problematized and tithing is an attractive contrast. I argue that a sense of social decline across Samoa encourages many to re-conceive the church from an indigenous social structure, requiring the same kind of exchange and valuation practices as chiefs and the village, to the church as a social welfare institution that provides prosperity and alternative possibilities and modalities for achieving authority.

SFAAs in Albuquerque

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

For the 2014 SFAA conference I organized a panel with Rochelle Rosen titled "Temporalities of Metabolic Disorders: Considering time in illness experience and interventions."  Panelists include Amy Moran-Thomas and Emily Mendenhall; Carolyn Smith-Morris will serve as a discussant. I will present a paper titled:  “The Chronicity of Healing: Conflicting Biomedical and Christian Healing Temporalities."

Abstract: Christian healing is ideologically constructed as instantaneous, individual, and efficacious because of divine intervention. However, for metabolic disorders in Samoa healing emerges as processual and efficacious because of the cultivation of interdependence between believers and the divine. Biomedical healing requires consistent and constant interventions, including pharmaceuticals, regular primary care, at times dialysis or insulin. This temporality of regular intervention suggests interdependence with technology and physicians. Many of my interlocutors refused biomedical healing temporality placing greater efficacy in Christian healing temporalities.

Ethnography at Dana Farber

Added on by Jessica Hardin.

On July 24 I will present a paper titled "Ethnography, Chronic Disease, and Community-Based Research” for the Population Science Discussion Group at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.