What is ‘Indigenous Health’ in Venezuela? An Anthropological (Mis)Understanding.

August 29 |
11:00 to 13:00
Colloquium Series MPR-Group Lipphardt
Max Planck Research Group Lipphardt
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Villa, Harnackstraße 5, 14195 Berlin
Johanna Gonçalves Martin (University of Cambridge)
In this talk I will explore the construction of diversity by those practicing biomedicine and research in the Upper Orinoco in Venezuela, and in recent policies for Indigenous Peoples which go under the banner of ‘indigenous health’. Through my case study of the Yanomami, and of the doctors or researchers who have been involved with them, I trace how the Yanomami have been constituted as ideal subjects of medical research and care, and how biological and cultural differences are articulated in practice. This is only part of the story, however, and I argue that going further requires that we pay attention to what Indigenous Peoples—in this particular case, the Yanomami—have to say themselves about the care provided in health posts, the collection of data in the context of research, and other practices which come to be known as ‘health’ (in Yanomami people’s own words, the ‘path of health’). However, an ethnographical approach suggests that most of the time there is no real understanding. Ethnography happens in a space in which the anthropologist learns more from the constant misunderstandings, refusals and reverse anthropologies he or she is subjected to. This has methodological relevance for the recent efforts in gaining distance from an Eurocentric historical narrative about knowledge, and renders in all its complexity the task of taking into account the difference of thought of the Other.