Gender, Body, and Medicine in Urban Ecuador. Ethnographic Explorations of Women’s Embodiment
by Erynn Masi de Casanova
Book Reviews of:
Casandra Paola Herrera Caicedo Cuerpos en re-construcción: El consumo de cirugía estética en la ciudad de Ambato. Quito: FLACSO Ecuador, 2012.
Elizabeth F. S. Roberts God’s Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Ann Miles Living with Lupus: Women and Chronic Illness in Ecuador. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013. London and New York: Zed Books, 2013.
What does it mean to be or have a body in a particular time and place? Three new scholarly investigations of women’s encounters with medicine in contemporary Ecuador answer this question concretely, while also presenting new ways of understanding “local biologies” (Lock and Nguyen, 2010). In these works, women’s bodies—always viewed and experienced as deficient in some way—become fascinating sites for exploring the ways that unequal material conditions and cultural ideas about gendered embodiment are lived and interpreted. This is the new urban ethnography of Latin America, placing the experiences of women as social and economic actors front and center. These three books, all written by anthropologists, expand and enrich myriad areas of intellectual inquiry, including medical anthropology/sociology, body studies, and gender studies. They also delve into people’s consumption of private and public health care (including the Social Security–funded health system) in Ecuador. These different modes of health care offer similar services but radically different conditions, wait times, and treatment of patients. Each book illustrates that the choices open to patients, whether they are seeking cosmetic surgery, assisted reproduction technologies, or lupus care, vary with location and ability to pay.
A few recent studies of feminine embodiment have addressed gender and cosmetic surgery elsewhere in Latin America (Edmonds, 2010; Hofmann, 2013; Ochoa, 2014). In Cuerpos en re-construcción: El consumo de cirugía estética en la ciudad de Ambato, Ecuadorian anthropologist Casandra Herrera Caicedo presents a study of upper-class women in Ecuador’s tenth-largest city who have opted for cosmetic surgery. Most of these women do not work outside the home, and many go to the gym daily; their lives differ radically from those of the working-class or poor women who are more frequently the focus of social research. This lively and pioneering portrayal of women cosmetic surgery patients’ decision …
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Latin American Perspectives
January 2016 43: 268-274
Published online before print March 5, 2015