Latin American Anthropology Seminar

Latin American Anthropology Seminar
18 March 2021, 5.00pm - 7.00pm

“Evo Only Likes Señoritas”: Humanness at Bolivia's National Psychiatric Hospital


Carolina Borda, WWB Foundation, Colombia

Based on an ethnographic research, this paper focuses on the influence that ethnic, gender and class classification schemes have on the intertwining of psychiatric and indigenous discourses around the trajectories of indigenous and peasant women hospitalised at the Chronic Unit of Bolivia's National Psychiatric Hospital.

I revise Goffman’s concept of the “moral career of a patient” to incorporate ethnic, class, and gender dynamics taking place prior to and outside psychiatric hospitalisation, and explain why they are an integral part of such a career, although overlooked by one of the founders of sociological studies of mental health institutions. Through ethnographic and archival data produced at the Female Chronic Unit of Bolivia’s National Psychiatric Hospital (INPGP), I examine hospitalisation as an option (and a place for treatment) whose realisation depends on power relations that exceed the hospital, which can be located within the communities of origin of female inmates, who in general are of rural origin.

Perspectives such as Basaglia’s study of the “psychiatric contradiction” and Foucault’s examination of discourses on mental illness and madness are brought into the analysis to study how, from hospitalisation to diagnosis and treatment, the moral career of the patient reflects ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies that are valid outside the institution. The institution reflects the outside but is also a place of impunity in which more violent ways of embodying such hierarchies are put into practice. Allopathic and non-allopathic medical diagnoses also have an influence on the place that a person, in this case an inmate, will occupy within the social structure of the hospital. However, rooted in the everyday life of the institution (whose power structure is analysed within the chapter) and in the history of the country, the institutional hierarchy is challenged by different subjects, which in turn helps to relieve tensions but without changing drastically the order of things. Indigenous and peasant people, when becoming inmates, are still considered as dirty, polluted, potentially violent, but also remain as subjects who are represented as feminised subjects in need of guidance and correction. Peasant and indigenous women are placed at the bottom of the hierarchy, and are the focus of even more drastic forms of treatment that begin by dispossessing them of their traditional clothes and extend to allowing practices of sexual violence against them to take place within and outside the hospital.

All are welcome. Attendance is free.

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Convenors: Jessica Sklair (Cambridge), Natalia Buitron (LSE), Ainhoa Montoya (ILAS, SAS).


Olga Jimenez
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