Rebecca J. Hester, "Embodied politics: health promotion, migrant activism and neoliberalism"

Rebecca J. Hester, "Embodied politics: health promotion, migrant activism and neoliberalism"
February 12, 2019 - 2:30 PM to 3:45 PM

This working paper is meant to be the introductory chapter of my forthcoming book “Embodied Politics.” In this chapter, I argue that there are two predominant theoretical approaches to health and its promotion, both of which are based in an activist politics. On the one hand, we think of health as a social justice “good,” especially for vulnerable populations living in a neoliberal system that produces inequity. Given this understanding of health, pro-migrant activists want to promote it wherever and whenever we can as a means to offset health inequities and as a matter of physical survival for migrants. On the other hand, critical health scholars see health as a hyper-capitalist “bad” insofar as it promotes neoliberal citizenship, high individualism and market-based medicalization, especially since the 1970’s. These scholars argue that health promotion is a technique of governmentality that forwards a politics that is antithetical to a social justice agenda and that undermines the cultural beliefs and values of migrant subjects. From this critical perspective, both migrant freedom and cultural survival are at stake. While acceding that both of these theoretical approaches have important explanatory value, this chapter argues that neither fully captures the ways that indigenous Mexican migrants use, promote, and think about health in their everyday lives. Using ethnographic data collected during several years of field work with an indigenous Mexican migrant organization in California, I show how migrants deploy a pragmatic politics that is attentive to both their physical and cultural survival. Rooted in the idea of praxiography, I call this theoretical approach to migrant health “embodied politics.” Attention to an embodied politics can shed new light on older theoretical approaches to health, and provide a fresh perspective on assimilationist narratives in immigration studies.

“Embodied politics: health promotion, migrant activism and neoliberalism”

Public Lecture, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, Cone 210, 2:30-3:45.

Free and open to the public!

Prof. Hester appears as part of our series on "Immigration," cosponsored by the Chancellor's Diversity Challenge Fund.


For a series flyer, click here.