new book: Stories in Times of Cholera

Charles Briggs (UCSD, La Jolla, CA) clbriggs at WEBER.UCSD.EDU
Fri Jan 17 19:17:07 UTC 2003

Dear friends,

I would like to bring to your attention a book that I
published recently with my wife. I think that it
speaks to the heart of the CDA  project. While its
specific focus is on a cholera epidemic in Venezuela,
the general question that it addresses is how racial
representations circulate on a transnational basis,
how they shape institutional practices, and their real-
world effects, particularly on the lives and deaths of
racialized and poor populations. We do not develop
detailed discursive analyses, since the idea is to
address a broad range of readers, including public
health practitioners and the general public; our goal
to create international pressure that will help change
the way that racism shapes these crucial institutional
sites. But I think that you will see the CDA logic
that shapes the analysis, and I hope that you will
find rich examples that can be used in future
analyses. (Much of the original material is in
Spanish, and these texts will be available in a few
months in a Spanish edition that is now in press with
Nueva Sociedad.)

I am including the University of California Press's
description, the table of contents, and the Web

In solidarity,


DURING A MEDICAL NIGHTMARE, by Charles L. Briggs with
Clara Mantini-Briggs

Cholera, although it can kill an adult through
dehydration in half a day, is easily treated. Yet in
1992-93, some five hundred people died from cholera in
the Orinoco Delta of eastern Venezuela. In some
communities, a third of the adults died in a single
night, as anthropologist Charles Briggs and Clara
Mantini-Briggs, a Venezuelan public health physician,
reveal in their frontline report. Why, they ask in
this moving and thought-provoking account, did so many
die near the end of the twentieth century from a
bacterial infection associated with the premodern
It was evident that the number of deaths resulted not
only from inadequacies in medical services but also
from the failure of public health officials to inform
residents that cholera was likely to arrive. Less
evident were the ways that scientists, officials, and
politicians connected representations of infectious
diseases with images of social inequality. In
Venezuela, cholera was racialized as officials used
anthropological notions of "culture" in deflecting
blame away from their institutions and onto the
victims themselves. The disease, the space of the
Orinoco Delta, and the "indigenous ethnic group" who
suffered cholera all came to seem somehow synonymous.
One of the major threats to people's health worldwide
is this deadly cycle of passing the blame. Carefully
documenting how stigma, stories, and statistics
circulate across borders, this first-rate ethnography
demonstrates that the process undermines all the
efforts of physicians and public health officials and
at the same time contributes catastrophically to
epidemics not only of cholera but also of
tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, and other killers. The
authors have harnessed their own outrage over what
took place during the epidemic and its aftermath in
order to make clear the political and human stakes
involved in the circulation of narratives, resources,
and germs.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Death in the Delta

1. Preparing for a Bacterial Invasion: Cholera Control
in Venezuela
2. Courtship of an Epidemic: Preparing for Cholera in
Delta Amacuro
3. Stories of an Epidemic Foretold: Cholera Reaches
4. Fighting Death in a Regional Clinic: Cholera
Arrives in Pedernales
5. Turning Chaos into Control: Initial Responses by
Regional Institutions
6. Containing an Indigenous Invasion: Quarantine in
7. Exile and Internment: The Mariusans on La Tortuga
8. Medicine, Magic, and Military Might: Cholera
Control on La Tortuga
9. Culture Equals Cholera: Official Explanations for
the Epidemic
10. Challenging the Logic of Culture: Resistant
Explanations for the Epidemic
11. Local Numbers and Global Power: The Role of
12. Sanitation and Global Citizenship: International
Institutions and the Latin American Epidemic
13. Virulent Aftermath: The Consequences of the

Charles L. Briggs is Professor and Director of the
Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies at the
University of California, San Diego, and most recently
coauthored Voices of Modernity (with Richard Bauman,
2003). Clara Mantini-Briggs, M.D., is the Director of
FundaciĆ³n para las Investigaciones Aplicadas Orinoco,
which conducts research and initiates programs aimed
at improving health conditions in Delta Amacuro,

The Web site at the University of California Press is:

Charles L. Briggs
Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0528
(858) 534-6050
(858) 534-7175 (fax)

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