Week 3

social stigmas


The article “The Damaged Self” by Robert Murphy really stood out to me. By Murphy describing how people react to people with disabilities (usually negative) and how in turn that affects the disabled person, I really began to contemplate how I personally address people with disabilities. What really hit home was when he mentioned deaf people and how they are often frustrated the most, “as they struggle to convey meaning to their agonized listeners” (331). Growing up with a deaf brother, I learned sign language in order to communicate with him, but because my parents were constantly working, they never had much time to learn it themselves. His teachers advised my parents against teaching him Spanish; for fear that he would become confused in learning three languages at the same time. I became the interpreter between him and my Spanish speaking family.

People born with disabilities or acquire disabilities later are in life are treated different, and after reading the article, it seems they are meant to stay invisible. With this invisibility it is easier to deny them rights and/or take away human right from them.  Here in the U.S. deaf people’s rights have come a long way but there are still discriminations that occur when it comes to employment. In other parts of the world, being deaf is much harder because some lack adequate programs for the deaf. So when I came across the article on the Rwandan genocide and how they also targeted deaf people because “disabilities were seen as a source of shame” I was shocked. With that being said, educating people and providing communities with access to programs that help the disabled, creates understanding and acceptance.



More on Deaf history:




Socially Constructed Perception of “Self”

In Robert E. Murphy’s autobiography “The Damaged Self,” the anthropological professor relates his experience as a paraplegic after being diagnosed with a benign tumor on his spinal cord. He states that rarely has anyone ever asked him how he feels… not even physicians who tend to prefer objectivity and ignore the emotions that accompany a disability. He feels a sense of guilt and shame as well as the desire to withdraw from society due to limited social interaction because his colleagues tended to avoid social interaction with him. The unity of “body” and “mind” and therefore “self” is disrupted along with one’s socially constructed perception of sex and masculinity. Murphy concludes that “the four most far-reaching changes in the consciousness of the disabled are: lowered self-esteem; the invasion and occupation of thought by physical deficits; a strong undercurrent of anger; and the acquisition of a new, total, and undesirable identity.”

His autobiography is similar to the perception of HIV/AIDS in China elaborated in the article “If You Get AIDS… You have to endure it alone” by Yanqiu Rachel Zhou. Due to an internalized stigma that HIV/AIDS is associated with “deviant” behavior such as promiscuity and homosexuality, many may refuse to seek treatment or prevention in addition to feeling suicidal or depressed. This socially constructed stigma is the consequence of public attitudes about the disease and the PWLHA’s (HIV-positive) social interactions with others. The contagiousness of HIV is also exaggerated causing PLWHA to feel “nervous” and self-conscious during social interactions.

While biomedical discourses are dominant in both the cases of HIV/AIDS and paraplegia, the impact of society’s perception of diseases/disabilities and how that would shape the inflicted’s concept of “self” is rarely examined.

In Cambodia, landmines are littered all over the countryside by different governments that occupied the country including the Khmer Rouge. As a consequence of war and genocide, the country has 1 amputee for every 290 people – one of the highest ratios in the world. According to a study by Daya J. Somasundaramab & Kea Kiri Renola, landmine victims face social stigmatization, unemployment, and difficulty in relationships and daily functioning. Even though there are rehabilitative facilities, there are barely any facilities for psychosocial needs. Similarly, the same stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in China must also be addressed in Cambodia.

Learn more about landmines: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3259891.stm

“The psychosocial effects of landmines in Cambodia”: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13623699808409394

-Jessica Heng

Racializing Death in a Venezuelan Cholera Epidemic


Charles Brigg’s article, “Modernity, Cultural Reasoning, and the Institutionalization of Social Inequality: Racializing Death in a Venezuelan Cholera Epidemic” really made me think about how to look at diseases and illnesses with a holistic approach. When one looks at diseases, they should be look at in “historical, social, and economic circumstances in which the epidemic is taking place” (681). I personally thought cholera to be a thing of the past, so to read an article that discusses cholera outbreak in the 1990s, really left me dumbfounded, and to read about the number of deaths that occurred when it could have easily have been treated with clean water and antibiotics was startling. What was even more startling was the fact that culture played a role in the number of deaths that occurred. Since the cholera outbreak occurred in indigenous populations, it was therefore explained away as a cause and effect occurrence. Some government and health officials’ claims were that the indigenous populations were easy targets of cholera because of their backward, primitive unhygienic ways. In doing this, the blame was cast upon the victims of cholera rather than the inadequate healthcare of the state.

In the article, there were some activists that claimed the cholera outbreak as genocide. In an article I came across about the cholera outbreak in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the UN was petitioned with “involuntary genocide,” meaning that they had a hand in the deaths of about 7,000 people. Modern health institutions, in trying to prevent harm can involuntarily inflict more harm to communities.

More on article:




It’s Easy to Blame “Culture”

In the paper, “Globalization, Cultural Reasoning, and the Institutionalization of Social Inequality” by Charles L. Brigg, the author essentially argues that cultural differences were used to legitimize social inequality. The Venezuelan government blamed the outbreak of cholera on the “backwards” culture of the “Warao” people living in Delta Amacura, attributing cholera to their diet, unsanitary habits, and even lack of “affection for life” by Warao mothers. Stories from the affected communities attributed the outbreak to a genocidal plot carried out by the government or international community. These conspiracy theories highlight the fact that political-economic institutions in Venezuela (and the international community) limit access to information, adequate school, proper sanitation, and health education as well as the necessity for improvements in these areas.

The Cambodian genocide of the 1970s is widely as one of the worst human tragedies within the last century, depriving people of their basic human rights and claiming an estimated 2 million lives under the rule of the communist organization known as the Khmer Rouge. For many Cambodians, it is a politically and emotionally sensitive topic. Whenever my grandmother starts giving an account as to what happened to her family during those years, she usually doesn’t finish her story and ends up sobbing about her lost children and cursing the Khmer Rouge. While I sympathize with her, I know I will never be able to completely put myself in her shoes and empathize with her and the pain and suffering she has had to endure.

However, because the events in Cambodia during the 70s are so emotionally charged, I also believe that it has also clouded judgements and perceptions of rural Cambodians in modern-day Cambodian society. Often times, the political and economical forces surrounding the rise of the Khmer Rouge are ignored and instead, people remember how “ignorant,” “backwards,”  and “uneducated” the members of the Khmer Rouge were. They often forget that the rise of the Khmer Rouge was due to the instability and failure of the newly established Lon Nol government to improve conditions in the country (in sectors of sanitation, education, health, etc.) and that this along with the bombing of the countryside by the United States during the Vietnam War led to immense rural support allowing the Khmer Rouge to rise and take over the country. It is easy to attribute the rise of the Khmer Rouge to the “stupidity” of Khmers from the countryside but a more truthful reminder would be made if the political and economical infrastructure of Cambodia at the time were to be analyzed.

Learn more about the Cambodian genocide: http://www.cambodiatribunal.org/history/khmer-rouge-history

-Jessica Heng