There are many people in Tanzania—though no one knows exactly how many—with skin that is significantly lighter than others’. Biomedically speaking, they are said to have albinism, a recessively inherited genetic condition that affects melanin production and results in low vision. In recent years, albinism has become the hegemonic conceptualization of light skin, in large part due to medical humanitarianism and deliberate efforts by the postcolonial state and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make albino a salient category.
The most prevalent form of lead exposure in Mexico City today is culinary; lead glazed ceramic dishes that are prized within families. Lead glaze makes the dishes shine and the food taste sweeter, and the enormous ollas (pots) that hang on kitchen walls connect current generations to past and future family celebrations. What if anthropology could tell the broader story of what these pots do, and their effects, by intertwining their social and chemical lives? Our bioethnographic project, Mexican Exposures (MEXPOS), seeks to do just that; we insist that, to understand lead exposure and working-class life in Mexico City, we need to keep glaze, sweetness, celebrations, and toxicity together.
An analogy for biomarkers in medical anthropology research? Should anthropologists include biological measures in our research? Does it make our work somehow more legitimate or scientific when we do? Does including biology necessarily distract us from talking about complex social, historical, and cultural processes? In considering these questions, I began thinking about pulse diagnosis in […]