Seth Holmes, Associate Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Migrant Farmworker Injury: Pseudo-events and the Statistics of Suffering

Human suffering in the contemporary world is known increasingly through statistical aggregation. The suffering of individuals is collected into categories in order to harness capital and compel intervention. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork with indigenous Mexican migrant workers in Washington State, California, and Oaxaca, Mexico, this paper considers the chronic injuries of farmworkers and the effects that statistical aggregation has on perceptions of and responses to them. Many forms of farmworker suffering are experienced as gerundive and ongoing, as normal, uneventful everyday life. When these forms of suffering are statistically amassed, however, the results are transformed into certain kinds of events, potentiating particular responses while erasing aspects of experience, temporality, and context.

Seth M. Holmes is Martin Sisters Endowed Chair Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology and Public Health at UC Berkeley. Trained as a cultural and medical anthropologist and a physician, he has written on ethnicity and citizenship hierarchies in transnational labor, food systems, socially structured suffering, structural vulnerability, symbolic violence, and the production of the clinical gaze in medical training. His book, entitled Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States received the New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology, the Society for the Anthropology of Work Book Award, and the Association for Humanist Sociology Book Award. Holmes received the 2014 Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology and the 2015 James M. Blaut Award from the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers. 

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