Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Violence and Health

In my discussions of the culture-centered approach, I suggest that health communication scholars and practitioners need to shift attention away from merely discussing individual-level health behaviors targeted through health promotion efforts to looking at the underlying structural conditions that create and sustain conditions of violence that fundamentally threaten human health across the globe.

Acts of violence (many of which are state sanctioned) typically lay hidden from the mainstream media and from talks of global health promotion initiatives. Although more fundamentally aligned with issues of health because of the very nature of risks they pose to human health, these stories of violence have remained largely absent from the work we engage in. These stories need to be told and health communicators have a key role to play in interrogating violence and bringing to public attention forms of violence that threaten human health. Ultimately, we as individual academics and as communities of scholars interested in health promotion have a vital role to play in thinking about possibilities for ending violence.

The war in Iraq waged by the United States is one such story of violence. The civilian death toll in the war at the time of this report ranged somewhere between 53101-58704 (Check out the website for continued update of the body count in Iraq). These stories of civilian deaths continue to be absent from our public consciousness and from the mainstream media that we consume daily.

As health communicators, we have remained characteristically silent about these civilian deaths brought about by state-sanctioned violence as we have gone about discussing strategies and tactics for promoting one more health behavior (eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, cancer screening etc). Although we have increasingly started paying attention to the need to share stories of health, we have shared those stories that reflect our middle and upper middle class biases; we have typically shared those stories that have been convenient for us to share and ignored those stories that interrogate the structures of violence that threaten health in intrinsically fundamental ways.

Perhaps a starting point for us to engage with violence is to go back to our role as gatherers and narrators of stories, and share those stories that are incovenient, those stories that jar our sense of aesthetics, and those stories that fundmanetally shake us from our stupor. Perhaps we can start sharing the kinds of stories of health that would make it difficult for us to walk away from the realities of violence being waged in spaces such as Iraq. It is perhaps through the sharing of these stories that we can talk about bringing about change in the structures of violence that constitute the health of marginalized communities.