Revisiting Critical Medical Anthropology in Oaxaca, Mexico

Revisiting Critical Medical Anthropology in Oaxaca, Mexico

Sahra Gibbon and Jennie Gamlin

Questions of health inequalities, structural violence and social determinants of health have been the main stays of an approach which has been central to the discipline, known as critical medical anthropology (CMA). While the high profile proponents and advocates of this perspective (mainly in the US) are required reading in medical anthropology courses in the UK and elsewhere, relatively little is known about traditions of medical anthropology which engage with critical perspectives from elsewhere and in particular when these are not written in or translated into English. Critical views from the Global South have been particularly marginalised from anthropological research in the UK.

In January a five day event co-organised by a team from UCL Medical Anthropology and CIESAS in Mexico in the beautiful surrounding of Oaxaca City was a chance to learn a lot more about not only how different traditions of CMA have evolved in Latin America but how those carrying out research in the UK, India, West Africa and beyond  are engaging, challenging and re-invigorating the space and shape of CMA . Generously funded by the British Council the event included over 40 participants (including staff and students from the department at UCL) who heard and debated questions relating to syndemics and chronic disease, critical engagement with science, maternal and reproductive health, mental health, ageing and emotions.


Intense, engaged discussion and debate was facilitated by being in  Oaxaca, a stunning city rich with indigenous and colonial heritage,  a touch of Mezcal (now and again!), dancing and plenty of wonderful Mexican food. Nourished not only in body but in mind and by the warmth of our Mexican hosts, including especially Lina Berrio and Paolo Sesia, the legacy of the five days workshop continues. We now have an edited collection and book series being planned as well as a double panel on ‘Embodied Inequalities’ at the EASA Medical Anthropology conference in Lisbon  in July. A follow up event at UCL in November will also bring participants from Brazil, Mexico and the US together for three days

At a time when social and health inequalities are widening and extending way beyond the confine of poorer countries, with effects that are becoming increasingly evident across the life course (and beyond) in many cultural contexts, the relevance of critical medical anthropology is more important than ever while itself demanding reflexive engaged consideration. Our experiences in Oaxaca suggests that medical anthropology is more than ready for the challenge!

Click here to see the British Council promotional film that was made of the event

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