Sunday, January 18, 2009
The Politics of Health and Culture
I found myself truly engaged by the readings this week. The readings spoke to a part of me that I never really knew existed. The semi-militant( I use this lightly...no need to call the authorities), angry at the state of being, activist mustered up the strength to finally be seen. Perhaps this was a part of me that has been dormant because of the lack or rather seeming lack of outlets to express such feelings of discontent with the state of politics as it affects culture and health. Last summer I did an independent study on the unintended effects (UE) health campaigns and some of the litereature pointed to the focus on individual behavior change in campaigns as potentially harmful especially in urban, ethnic minority populations. The argument that followed chastised the current establishment for blaming the individual for adverse health outcomes. What followed was an elaboration on the impact of sociocultural, societal, and environmental factors on health. I saw this theme interlaced in the readings for this week especially in the work of Airhihenbuwa. The notion that health is related to culture but through the confines of the political system at work in a society. In Ch. 2 of the text Airhihenbuwa suggest that " health problems...are beyond individual behavior but rather indicate the complexities and influence of social contexts" (p. 18). Additionally he suggests that "emphasis continues to be on individual-level analysis that isolates and focuses on sexuality, alcohol and drug use practices, nutritional practices, and tobacco consumption, even though these conditions require a broader examination of social and institutional influences" (p. 18). I chose today to focus on this issue as it is of increasing interest to me. How can we go beyond looking just at individual level interventions and offer sustained socio-ecological interventions that aren't fleeting and don't focus on just changing the environment? There is so much more to health than personal choices and the immediate physical environment that we live in. How can we identify all of the intervening factors that bring about adverse health situations as they are different for different people in different situations? How can we as researchers even if we are of the same culture as the population of interests truly understand all of the factors that affect them; the very fact that we are academics creates a power differential that separates us from their reality? I was really forced to think about the complexity of health behavior and health decisions for different people and how culture and the political/environmental system in place promote and hinder things such as choice, access, and ability in the realm of health. I am excited about what I will continue to uncover about health, culture, and politics in the realm of people in general and more importantly what it means to me and how it influences my own research agenda within health communication.