An Unruly Mélange in a Postcolonial State: The Cultural Politics of Short-Term Global Health Engagements in Dominican Republic Bateyes
Wilson, Brenda K
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In order to understand the implications of short-term global health engagements [STGHE] for ethnic-Haitian im/migrant sugar laborers and their families living in Dominican Republic bateyes, this ethnographic study uses a critical humanities approach to examine the cultural politics of STGHE, illuminating the epistemic forces, social dynamics, economies of exchange, and relations of power taking place through STGHE. Bateyes are the impoverished residential sites located on Dominican sugar plantations and are known for having some of the worst living and working conditions in the world. This research asks how and why illness, poverty, and inequities in bateyes persist, despite more than three decades of STGHE involvement and growing attention to global health. Given the increased recognition of the importance of training a future global citizenry and/or global health workforce how to understand the social and structural determinants of health inequities and how to take action on them, I question how health inequities are experienced by batey residents on an everyday basis and how their experiences articulate with STGHE programs purportedly aimed at addressing health inequities. Drawing together critical theory and one year of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, I examine how the root causes of batey health inequities are taught, learned, and intervened through STGHE. I posit that the root drivers of health inequities in bateyes are historically-rooted and sociopolitical; however, numerous depoliticizing techniques built into STGHE obscure those underlying historical and sociopolitical reasons batey residents suffer illness and poverty in the first place. This mismatch reveals how STGHE may not address health inequities and, given the way that power is operating through STGHE, may unknowingly perpetuate or exacerbate unequal power relations, albeit through hidden epistemological, ideological, institutional, economic, and political processes. I conclude with an alternative pedagogy and practice for bringing STGHE closer to realizing their aspirations of achieving health equity.