The Bounds of Belief in Belize: Health, Belief, and Biomedicine in Rural Communities

Conference Flyer where this paper was presented
by douglas c reeser on 12.12.12
As an anthropologist, it is expected that I present my research to the public. One of the most accepted means of doing this is through national and international conferences. A big issue with conferences, however, is that they reach a very specific public. Conferences are often quite costly which limits who has access, many papers are presented to very small audiences, and the papers are rarely published or otherwise made available. So while I get "credit" in the eyes of colleagues and potential employers for presenting at a prestigious conference, chances are just 20 people ever get to see, hear, or read my paper. To me, that is a limited public.

I was lucky enough to have a paper accepted at the latest annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association. I was only able to attend because of a small travel grant that covered my airfare to San Francisco and my room for the week. Although well attended, the conference is quite pricey (almost $200 for student membership and registration), which limits attendees to primarily anthropologists. My paper was given on the first day of the conference when many people are still arriving, and the audience was quite small. So in an effort to make my research available to a wider public, I am sharing the paper here, for free.

Read the abstract and the entire paper after the jump:

"Health decision-making in indigenous contexts has long been examined through the factors that influence how people negotiate the variety of health care options that are available to them. Often mistaken as a cultural barrier, a person’s beliefs can be the driving factor in how one uses the available health resources. This paper examines a context in which beliefs are varied and undergoing change as the border between the science of biomedicine and the belief in spiritual medicine is blurred and often contested. In the south of the small Caribbean/Latin American country of Belize, systems of traditional medicine remain strong, yet people have been advised on the efficacy of biomedicine for generations. As a result, the tension between the two systems is evident in the day to day health practices of the local population. The national health system of Belize provides health services to its citizens free of charge; however, Belize faces a shortage of health care practitioners, especially in the southern, rural part of the country. Deficiencies in the national health care system often lead to incomplete or inappropriate care, but, instead of questioning the quality of care, the persistence of the belief in spiritual aspects of health lead many to turn to traditional practitioners who specialize in matters of spiritual health. Thus the line between effective biomedical and/or traditional health services remains unclear, necessitating the further examination of the boundaries between biomedicine and belief."
The Bounds of Belief in Belize: Health, Belief and Biomedicine in Rural Communities
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  1. Thanks for bringing up the issue with conferences - it is a point not published often.

    Your move to Punta Gorda does seem to have placed you closer to the complexity behind health decisions and even determinants.

    It would be interesting to hear how this paper was received...

    1. I agree that the conference paper issue is under-discussed. On one hand I understand that these are professional conferences, usually intended for a specific audience - one's colleagues. On the other hand, they are a fairly weak form of knowledge dissemination that keeps knowledge private and privileged. I think the problem of access needs to be addressed.


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