2012 • $32.00 • 224 pp • paper
Based on ethnographic research conducted in rural Morocco, Vulnerability and the Art of Protection examines how culture shapes health behavior in low-income households. The book explores local forms of social, cultural, and spiritual experience to discern when and how women caregivers heeded, ignored, and manipulated both scientific and folk knowledge about health dangers. The comparison illuminates links among the implicit structures of everyday life, embodied experience, and household health practices. MacPhee argues that recurring patterns of interiority, unity, balance, and purity in the organization of domestic life simultaneously generated an embodied index for discerning feelings of vulnerability and security at the level of the body, the household, and the community. This embodied index, in turn, mediated the ambiguous relationship between general knowledge about health dangers and the immediate contexts of lived experience.
Case studies on the diverse protective strategies that Moroccan housewives used during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding provide insight into the complexity of lived experience in a cultural context of medical pluralism, ethnic diversity, and social change. Instead of depicting culture as a static set of beliefs or practices, the analysis highlights the dynamic way that embodied sensibilities influenced women’s interpretation of the relative degree of danger in particular contexts and their enactment of particular strategies of protection. The integration of concepts such as embodied experience, cultural aesthetics, intersubjectivity, and practical logic offers medical anthropologists and public health professionals a new context-specific way to conceptualize risk-perception and the cultural determinants of health behavior.
This book is part of the Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh.
“MacPhee's text provides a subtle critique of medical anthropological theory and intervenes in important ways into public health scholarship ... This book would be an excellent introductory text for undergraduates, or for students from public health and other research fields. The text would make a successful teaching tool for interdisciplinary classes as it introduces readers to important elements of anthropological theory while still being useful for students interested in more applied research.” — Journal of Anthropological Research
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