Tell Me Why My Children Died: Rabies, Indigenous Knowledge, and Communicative Justice

Duke University Press
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Tell Me Why My Children Died tells the gripping story of indigenous leaders' efforts to identify a strange disease that killed thirty-two children and six young adults in a Venezuelan rain forest between 2007 and 2008. In this pathbreaking book, Charles L. Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs relay the nightmarish and difficult experiences of doctors, patients, parents, local leaders, healers, and epidemiologists; detail how journalists first created a smoke screen, then projected the epidemic worldwide; discuss the Chávez government's hesitant and sometimes ambivalent reactions; and narrate the eventual diagnosis of bat-transmitted rabies. The book provides a new framework for analyzing how the uneven distribution of rights to produce and circulate knowledge about health are wedded at the hip with health inequities. By recounting residents' quest to learn why their children died and documenting their creative approaches to democratizing health, the authors open up new ways to address some of global health's most intractable problems.  
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About the author

Charles L. Briggs is Alan Dundes Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, and the author or coauthor of ten books.  Clara Mantini-Briggs, a Venezuelan public health physician, was the National Coordinator of the Dengue Fever Program in Venezuela's Ministry of Health and is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. They are coauthors of Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
May 27, 2016
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Pages
344
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ISBN
9780822374398
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Language
English
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Genres
Medical / Public Health
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Charles L. Briggs
Cholera, although it can kill an adult through dehydration in half a day, is easily treated. Yet in 1992-93, some five hundred people died from cholera in the Orinoco Delta of eastern Venezuela. In some communities, a third of the adults died in a single night, as anthropologist Charles Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs, a Venezuelan public health physician, reveal in their frontline report. Why, they ask in this moving and thought-provoking account, did so many die near the end of the twentieth century from a bacterial infection associated with the premodern past?

It was evident that the number of deaths resulted not only from inadequacies in medical services but also from the failure of public health officials to inform residents that cholera was likely to arrive. Less evident were the ways that scientists, officials, and politicians connected representations of infectious diseases with images of social inequality. In Venezuela, cholera was racialized as officials used anthropological notions of "culture" in deflecting blame away from their institutions and onto the victims themselves. The disease, the space of the Orinoco Delta, and the "indigenous ethnic group" who suffered cholera all came to seem somehow synonymous.

One of the major threats to people's health worldwide is this deadly cycle of passing the blame. Carefully documenting how stigma, stories, and statistics circulate across borders, this first-rate ethnography demonstrates that the process undermines all the efforts of physicians and public health officials and at the same time contributes catastrophically to epidemics not only of cholera but also of tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, and other killers. The authors have harnessed their own outrage over what took place during the epidemic and its aftermath in order to make clear the political and human stakes involved in the circulation of narratives, resources, and germs.

Charles L. Briggs
Cholera, although it can kill an adult through dehydration in half a day, is easily treated. Yet in 1992-93, some five hundred people died from cholera in the Orinoco Delta of eastern Venezuela. In some communities, a third of the adults died in a single night, as anthropologist Charles Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs, a Venezuelan public health physician, reveal in their frontline report. Why, they ask in this moving and thought-provoking account, did so many die near the end of the twentieth century from a bacterial infection associated with the premodern past?

It was evident that the number of deaths resulted not only from inadequacies in medical services but also from the failure of public health officials to inform residents that cholera was likely to arrive. Less evident were the ways that scientists, officials, and politicians connected representations of infectious diseases with images of social inequality. In Venezuela, cholera was racialized as officials used anthropological notions of "culture" in deflecting blame away from their institutions and onto the victims themselves. The disease, the space of the Orinoco Delta, and the "indigenous ethnic group" who suffered cholera all came to seem somehow synonymous.

One of the major threats to people's health worldwide is this deadly cycle of passing the blame. Carefully documenting how stigma, stories, and statistics circulate across borders, this first-rate ethnography demonstrates that the process undermines all the efforts of physicians and public health officials and at the same time contributes catastrophically to epidemics not only of cholera but also of tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, and other killers. The authors have harnessed their own outrage over what took place during the epidemic and its aftermath in order to make clear the political and human stakes involved in the circulation of narratives, resources, and germs.

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