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Disidentification with Diabetes: Diabetic Publics in the U.S./Mexico Borderlands

  • Author(s): Callahan-Kapoor, Celina Elizabeth;
  • Advisor(s): Rutherford, Danilyn;
  • Wolf-Meyer, Matthew
  • et al.

Stories about the rates of diabetes in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas abound. Type-2 diabetes is alternately described as a problem of Mexican culture, poverty, genetics, individual choice, or potential national ruination. In newspapers, on radio programs, and in everyday talk about proper self-care, multiple communicative communities—e.g., journalists, public health workers, diabetics, and non-diabetics—relate to diabetes differently. The category “Mexican-American in south Texas with diabetes” circulates persuasively among these multiple communities, at times binding them together through common response to it and at times producing spaces of separation. Sometimes the category is named and sometimes it is not; sometimes it is affirmed and sometimes it is denied. The practices through which the category is produced, circulated, and responded to lie at the heart of this dissertation.

       Based on twenty-two months of multi-sited fieldwork, this dissertation presents an ethnography of how people both identify and dis-identify with diabetes, forming diabetic publics of “us” and “them.” The processes of identification and dis-identification are examined in narratives of the disease’s etiology; clinical treatment; its circulation in popular media and academic scholarship; the numbers that anchor its prevalence rates; its role in popular forms of exercise; and its presence in the lives of people in the region who do not have diabetes.

This dissertation’s central thesis is that people in the Rio Grande Valley form body-based publics in moments of identification and dis-identification with the category “Mexican-American in south Texas with diabetes” as it circulates in popular media and academic scholarship. Whether in the United States/Mexico borderlands or in any number of regions with “endemic” diabetes, this dissertation demonstrates that diabetes is not just a biological disease process. Rather, diabetes transforms in multiple ways as it is produced and circulated in popular media, and as people respond to it in its multiply mediated forms. Through attention to the pragmatics of everyday talk and care practices, and the production, circulation, and reception of popular media and scholarship, this dissertation describes how people in the Rio Grande Valley enact membership in two seemingly incommensurable publics—“us” and “them.”

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