Wednesday, December 11, 2019

[Short Course] An Introduction to Medical Anthropology - University of Sao Paulo

As visiting faculty at the University of Sao Paulo, I gave a short course entitled "An Introduction to Medical Anthropology" from December 4-9, 2019, in which I offered a broader view of health, focusing on the ways people make sense of health, illness, and bodily experiences - and discussing some contemporary debates within the sub-discipline with particularly relevance to the Global South.

The course covered four modules - " Situating culture in health, situating health in culture: Basic concepts in medical anthropology";  "The human life cycle: An anthropological perspective"; "The normal and the pathological"; and "The ‘lived body’: Exploring everyday technologies of the self".

In the first module, the class discussed the emergence of medical anthropology as an important subfield as well as foundational concepts like medical pluralism, the three sectors of healthcare, and explanatory models of disease. In the second module, we revisited the classic anthropological concept of ‘rites of passage’ to reflect on the different stages of the human life cycle.

Meanwhile, the third module discussed how medical knowledge and practice have structured modern notions of normality, deviance, identity, and community.

Finally, the fourth module reflected on ‘body projects’ in late modernity - from plastic surgery in Korea to skin whitening in the Philippines - and how these practices are situated in both global and local contexts.

[Public Lecture] Towards the Anthropology of the Vertical

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - On December 4, 2019, as part of my duties as visiting faculty here at the University of Sao Paulo's Department of Anthropology, I delivered a public lecture based on my PhD dissertation entitled "Towards the Anthropology of the Vertical". I presented historical and ethnographic findings from my research, including the imbrication of height with colonialism, race, gender, and identity. I also sketched possible research directions of this approach, including the ways in which 'verticality' characterize modernity: from our high-rise buildings and elevators to 'body projects' that involve human height. 

After the lecture, Prof. Joao Gonçalves of USP gave a reaction, referencing counter-examples that celebrate not just height but depth, stressing that verticality can mean not just "up" but "down".

A summary of some of the findings from my PhD research can be found in this article.  

Thursday, November 7, 2019

[Presentation] 41st UGAT Conference - Deciphering a non-meal

At the 41st UGAT Conference in the Visayas State University,  Baybay, Leyte, I presented a paper reflecting on the notion of 'pantawid-gutom', drawing from fieldwork among young people who use drugs and low-income urban communities. The abstract is as follows:

Pantawid-gutom’ literally means ‘to bridge hunger’ and refers to a range of food and non-food products and practices that allow people to survive in between what the cultural historian Doreen Fernandez calls “serious meals”. What makes a good ‘pantawid-gutom’, and what does its existence as a liminal category between ‘food' / ‘non-food’ or ‘serious' / ‘unserious meal' signify, particularly for the over 2 million Filipino families who experience hunger on a regular basis?

Drawing on my fieldwork in low-income urban communities in Luzon and from a review of the scholarly and popular literature, I use local conceptions of ‘pantawid-gutom’ - hitherto overlooked in the scholarship - as a starting point for exploring the lived reality of food insecurity in the country. The efficacy of ‘pantawid-gutom’, I argue, is both material and symbolic, providing temporary relief from the feeling of hunger - and allowing people to suspend their ideas of what is good to eat while maintaining the hope that their predicament itself is something that they can bridge. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

[Presentation] 1st Asia Regional Meeting ISSDP - Drugs as a populist trope in Asia

At the 1st Asia Regional Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP) on October 14-15, 2019, I  presented a paper reflecting on the ways in which drugs are mobilized as populist tropes in four Asian countries - the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Thailand - drawing from historical and contemporary examples.

The conference was the first of its kind in Asia and was a significant step in bringing together researchers (and advocates) in the region, given the many region-specific concerns, not least of which are punitive drug policies. Earlier this year, Dr. Claudia Stoicescu and I co-wrote a civil society report for the International Drug Policy Consortium summarizing the major developments in the region over the past decade.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

[Presentation] 13th ISSDP Conference, Paris - The impacts of drug testing in Philippine schools

On May 24, 2019, as part of the 13th Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP) in Paris, France, I presented a paper entitled "The impacts of drug testing in Philippine schools". A policy analysis informed by key informant interviews, government documents, and public discourse, I highlighted the harms of this policy - to the students, to the schools, and to society at large. 

I concluded my presentation with three major points:

- Random drug testing (RDT) poses a risk for students, requires financial and human resources  from the school system, and perpetuates the idea that society must be ‘drug-free’

- RDT in Philippine schools has persisted over the past two decades because of its largely uncritical acceptance by government agencies, as well as the social and political efficacies of supporting (or acquiescing) to it.

- Beyond the killings, we need to look at other policies whose harms are more insidious - as these are ones that are more likely to persist 

This is a topic that deserves further exploration (and documentation). For more of my thoughts about it, please see a column that I wrote in January.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

[Presentation] Columbia University, New York - Interrogating the Philippine 'Drug War'

On April 22-23, 2019, I joined a conference at the Columbia Journalism School in New York City entitled "Violence and Policing in the Philippines, Latin America, and the U.S.", where I presented some insights from historical and ethnographic studies of drugs in the Philippines.

As in previous presentations, I reiterated three main points: First, that Duterte is best seen as a continuation or escalation - not an exception - to Philippine drug policy: one that views drugs as ‘evil’ and sanctions punitive measures; second, the ethnographic picture shows that drugs are ‘useful’ in the everyday lives of young people and therefore any response must consider their socio-economic situations. 

Finally, drawing on my own research, I highlighted how anxiety and fear characterize young people’s outlooks: they view law enforcement as unfair, corrupt, and hypocritical. 

The conference offered various perspectives from Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, US - as well as various voices from the Philippines. Hopefully, a kind of engagement that finds value in Philippines-Latin America comparisons and collaborations will continue. And so will the work that documents and challenges the violent drug policies in the Philippines as well as the conditions that enable them.