Visiting Researcher Discusses Post-Colonial Health Perceptions in Contemporary Philippines


visiting researcherSDRC Visiting Researcher John Friend shared the initial findings of his dissertation study in a presentation entitled "Discipline, Health, and the Shaping of Medical Perceptions and Practices: Toward a Theory of Biological Citizenship in the Philippines" on June 21, 2010 at the Ariston Estrada Seminar Room. A faculty member of the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Mr. Friend focused on providing a working definition of "biological citizenship" and on a background of medical perceptions stemming from "the birth of Bacteriology and the 'New Public Health'."

Mr. Friend traced the birth of "Bacteriology" to the disease theories of the 19th century. Among these were the Miasma Theory, which perceived disease as a product of dirt, gases, and other pollutants; it was addressed through massive sanitation movements to clean garbage and sewage from the streets and to protect potable water sources. The Germ Theory, meanwhile, posited by Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, revolutionized medical theory with the identification of the contagious microbe, and thus attributed epidemics to the spread of germs rather than sordid urban conditions. "Bacteriology" was subsequently pronounced by Charles Chapin to be "the scientific backbone of public health," in which sanitarians were disregarded and importance was now given to "scientists, microscopes, and laboratories." This "New Public Health," which emphasized the "cultivation or care of the self," was later taken abroad, resulting in the establishment of schools for the study of tropical med icine to help acclimatize the Europeans. Beyond this, it identified as "the White Man's burden" the task of "disciplining and sanitizing the disease-carrying, 'feeble-minded' native."

"Biological citizenships," as explained by Mr. Friend, stem from Paul Rabinow's concept of "biosociality," or the formation of social identities associated with the biologicalization of the self. "Biological citizenships" have two dimensions-the collectivized, and the individualized. As a result of the "New Public Health," there was a shift from a population environment-based approach to an individualistic laboratory-based approach. Individuals thus came to be referred to as "Germ Distributors," "Chronic Carriers," or "Healthy Carriers."

In placing his investigation within a local context, Mr. Friend cited that during the colonial era, "the native body was seen as an obstacle" by the Americans due to "the 'primitive practices' and knowledges of the Filipinos." Transforming the "weak and feeble race" into the "strong, healthy and enduring people that they may yet become"
was perceived to require "Hygieine Pragmateia and rigorous self-governance." An example given to illustrate this practice was that of the leper colony on Culion Island, on which "citizenship" was achieved through hygienic discipline. Though the Culion was later used as a model for other leper colonies around the world, native resistance to bacteriology was also documented, and the American public health officer's attempt to spread the "gospel of the germ" was challenged.

At the end of his presentation, Mr. Friend discussed how health perceptions and practices continue to be influenced by American public health in contemporary Philippines. This can be seen in the role of science and technology in shaping the perception and treatment of individuals with HIV/AIDS. The disease is portrayed as a debilitating and disgraceful one, which specific groups (homosexuals, commercial sex workers, balikbayans, foreign visitors/tourists-especially the U.S. military-and call center workers) are blamed for spreading. This enables the state to "police" HIV "fugitives" through forced testing and meticulous surveillance, and through the control of "at risk" behavior.

The presentation was attended by members of the CLA faculty and graduate students of the Masters in Health Social Science program of the Behavioral Sciences Department.