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.