This talk focuses on Martinez's ethnographic study of cervical cancer in Venezuela, examining the socio-cultural and political meanings of the disease among public health administrators/educators, physicians, and patients. In the early 1990s President Perez had instituted policies aimed at cutting back on state-funded health care and rates of cervical cancer increased through the late 1990s. At the same time, “at risk” women were being blamed for their disease under a rubric of personal responsibility. Risk factors that emphasized morality, culture, and hygiene coalesced with the neoliberal climate. The cultural politics of cervical cancer named poor racialized women as threats to the modern nation. Importantly, Martinez argues that this politics of cancer extended into the intimacy of the examining room, regulating interactions between patients and physicians. With the election of Chavez and his rejection of neoliberal policies, discourses around health and cancer also began to change, albeit slowly, in the context of social medicine. However, differences emerged among pro-Chavez institutions/individuals and anti-Chavez ones. The former emphasized structural inequities in cancer risk, while the latter continued to circulate within a framework of individual morality, particularly in the context of hygiene, reproduction, and sexuality of poor women. The cultural politics of disease and illness have important implications not only for accessibility of care, but also for caregiving.

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