Nancy Scheper-Hughes

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Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Photo by Tony Rinaldo

Overview:

Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a prominent figure in medical anthropology, well-known for her work on schizophrenia among rural Irish bachelors (Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland), and on hunger, motherhood and infant mortality in Brazil (Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil). She is also well-known for her more recent work focuses on the trafficking of human organs in global markets, health inequalities, how social forces become embodied (see Embodiment), and the commodification of human bodies [1] [2] [3] [4] . Scheper-Hughes’ analysis of political and structural violence of death, violence, and suffering, emotionally evocative writing style, and applied work have developed a form of, what she labels, ‘militant’ anthropology[5] .

Currently, Scheper-Hughes is Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley and Director of Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body. Scheper-Hughes is also an advisor on global transplantation to the World Health Organization [6] [7] .

Research and Work:


Scheper-Hughes has made a significant impact on Medical Anthropology through her investigation of controversial topics and provocative writing style. This ‘militant’ anthropology has led to Scheper-Hughes’ recognition outside of the discipline of Anthropology for her expertise on politically charged issues such as the trade of human organs. Scheper Hughes discusses this very issue in an article she wrote entitled Primacy of the ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology.”[8] In contrast to strictly “theoretical” anthropologists, Scheper-Hughes argues for an “active, politically committed, morally engaged approach to her field.” She believes that the value of anthropology lies in its commitment to the struggle for social justice and that anthropologists confronting human suffering cannot remain neutral [9] .

Throughout the span of her career, Scheper-Hughes has researched and conducted engaged research in a wide-range of topics, as well as regions of the world. Some of these topics include: AIDS/HIV in Brazil and Cuba, human rights, the trafficking of human organs, transitional violence and justice in slums, the rise in police-supported death squads, and apartheid in South Africa. Her research has been conducted throughout differing regions such as Latin America (primarily Brazil), South Africa, and Europe. Her research often focuses on violence, suffering, and premature death "as these are experienced on the margins and peripheries of the late modern world"[10] .

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Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Awarded the Margaret Mead Award in 1981

In 1980, Scheper-Hughes was awarded the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology for her first book, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland [11] . In this work, she discusses how schizophrenia was occurring at high rates among bachelor sons as a result of social norms and stressors that required particular duties from these sons[12] . As a result of her work, the Irish community that she works with was upset and angry about the published work, perceiving it as a “breach of trust” and exposing secrets about their mental and emotional health and private lives. Scheper-Hughes republished the book in subsequent years to address various ethical issues involved with ethnographic research, self-reflection, as well as updates of the community [13] .

Scheper-Hughes’ work uses a mixed methods approach to research. For example, with her earlier works such as the work with Brazilian mothers, she initially started investigating the issue by looking at public records and statistical information, then figuring out the story behind the numbers. In this particular case, she realized that there was a large amount of underreporting of infant deaths. She then investigated how mothers and surviving children were affected by high infant mortality rates [14] . She found that as a result of the high number of infant deaths, society had normalized infant death among the poor, and women understood that, although all children were meant to be born, not all babies that were conceived were meant to survive. Because death is viewed as inevitable among these women, some babies were “helped” to die and be brought to the side of God. Similarly, Scheper-Hughes helped to show that motherhood is socially constructed, not simply biologically determined. Women, once they knew that their babies were able to survive, would be able to build relationships and emotional attachment to their children [15] [16] .


Biography:


Nancy Scheper-Hughes was born 1944 in Brooklyn, New York City[17] She grew up in an immigrant, working-class neighborhood. Her mother was first-generation Czech-American and her father was of German Lutheran background. She attended Queens College for several years before deciding to serve in the Peace Corp. She was placed in Brazil to work with community organizing, but where she also learned about malnourishment and infant mortality[18] .

After serving with the Peace Corp in the 1960s, she returned to work with an organization in the South of the US where she helped fight to bring government programs to the South to fight against hunger. Through this domestic and international experiences, Scheper-Hughes was both optimistic and eager to do applied/engaged work, but also reflective about the significance of such drastic inequalities and what this meant in anthropological terms. After this activist work, Scheper-Hughes went to Berkeley to finish her undergraduate degree under her mentor Hortense Powdermaker. She continued on to complete her graduate work in Anthropology at Berkeley[19] .

In 1994-95, She spent a year at the University of Cape Town as a temporary professor, where researched political and everyday violence in the transition periods of apartheid. In 1999, Scheper-Hughes became the co-founder and director of Organs Watch and an advisor on global transplantation to the World Health Organization [20] . Throughout the 2000s, Scheper-Hughes investigated the trade of human organs. She interviewed and documented the experiences, shame and stigma that kidney donors face after they sell their organs[21] and later informed the FBI of the sellers of human organs which led to various arrests. She addressed the ethics of investigating "under cover" in articles such as Parts unknown: Undercover ethnography of the organs-trafficking underworld[22] .

Scheper-Hughes is currently Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley and Director of Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body[23] .


Applied Work:


Scheper-Hughes, labeling herself as a militant anthropologist, has engaged with applied anthropological work throughout her career. In the 1960s she served with the Peace Corp in Brazil and worked as an activist for social movements in Brazil (for the rights of rural workers, street children, etc)[24] .
In 2007, she was awarded the William Sloan Coffin Awards for moral leadership[25] .


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Nancy Scheper-Hughes with Alberty Alfonso da Silva in Brazil. Alberty’s scar is from a kidney translant, the result of international organ trafficking. Photo by John Maier


Lawrence Cohen and Scheper-Hughes co-founded Organs Watch November 1999. As the director for Organ Watch, Scheper-Hughes researched the global traffic of human organs[26] . Directly related with this work, she has made appearances on public media such as the BBC program HARDtalk in 2008. Scheper-Hughes has firmly stated her opinion that organ trade is unjust and corrupt, and that even if there is government oversight the trade of organs will become corrupt when wealthy individuals in need of organs require and are willing to pay for organs. She defends her preference that organ transplants should occur on a voluntary basis, as a gift rather than as a commodity. Scheper-Hughes also addresses the extremely long waiting list for human organs by suggesting that infants and patients over the age of seventy should be cut from the list since they are not ideal candidates for successful transplants[27] [28] .

Scheper-Hughes has also suggested and argued for the “presumed-consent model” of organ donation in the United States. This model allows doctors to “assume that dying patients are organ donors unless they specifically opt out.” She continues by saying that transplant doctors are well-positioned to argue for universal health care. Patients are cared for in all stages of life in countries where presumed consent works. Such countries include: Austria, Belgium, and Spain. Schepher-Hughes has said, “how else can you ask people to be generous with their bodies at death?”[29] . Of course, other academics[30] [31] [32] have written in objection to her stances on the organ trade, as Taylor (2006) argues “it is important to dispel Scheper‐Hughes's mischaracterisations of the pro‐market position, and of the medical and economic realities that have led to its development”
[33] .

Lastly, Scheper-Hughes has done advocacy work. She believes that anthropologist cannot avoid “local engagements, local commitments, and local accountability,” but that ethnography should be used as “a tool for critical reflection and for human liberation"[34] .

Major Publications:


2003 Commodifying Bodies. Co-edited with Loïc Wacquant. London: Sage Publications. Series in Theory, Culture, and Society.
2001 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics. Berkeley: University of California Press. 20th Anniversary edition. Expanded and updated with new preface and epilogue
1999 Small Wars: The Cultural Politics of Childhood. Co-edited with Carolyn Sargent. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1993 Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Second edition).
1979 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Videos



Conversations with History: Nancy Scheper-Hughes. From the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley

BBC NEWS | Hardtalk | Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Link to Video clip of an interview with Scheper-Hughes on the Organ Trade, HARDtalk. October 28, 2008


Further Readings


Kellett, Peter. 2009 Advocacy in Anthropology: Active engagement or passive scholarship? Durham Anthropology Journal, 16(1), 22-31. <http://www.dur.ac.uk/anthropology.journal/vol16/iss1/kellett.pdf>.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995 The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36 (3):409-20.

Scheper-Hughes, N. 2003 Rotten Trade: Millennial Capitalism, Human Values and Global Justice in Organs Trafficking. Journal of Human Rights 2(2):197-226.

Taylor, JS 2007 A “Queen of Hearts” trial of organ markets: why Scheper‐Hughes's objections to markets in human organs fail. J Med Ethics.April; 33(4): 201–204.


References


  1. ^ “Nancy Scheper-Hughes” Berkeley, Department of Anthropology. <http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/users/nancy-scheper-hughes.>
  2. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy and Margaret Locke. 1987 The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1:6-41
  3. ^ Good, Byron J, Michael MJ Fischer, Sarah S Willen, and Mary-Job DelVecchio Good, eds. 2010 A Reader in Medical Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA.
  4. ^ Scheper‐Hughes, N. 2000 The Global Traffic in Human Organs1. Current Anthropology 41(2):191-224.
  5. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995 The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36 (3):409-20.
  6. ^ “Nancy Scheper-Hughes” Berkeley, Department of Anthropology. <http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/users/nancy-scheper-hughes.>
  7. ^ Taylor, JS 2007 A “Queen of Hearts” trial of organ markets: why Scheper‐Hughes's objections to markets in human organs fail. J Med Ethics. 2007 April; 33(4): 201–204.
  8. ^ “Conversations with History, Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes" Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. < http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Scheper-Hughes/sh-con0.html>
  9. ^ Estrada, Ivelisse. “An Anthropologist Investigates the Traffic in Human Organs.”Radcliffe Quarterly-Winter 2007.<http://www.radcliffe.edu/print/about/quarterly/w07_organs.htm>
  10. ^ “Nancy Scheper-Hughes” Berkeley, Department of Anthropology. <http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/users/nancy-scheper-hughes.>
  11. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1979 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  12. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1979 Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  13. ^ “Schizophrenia” Volunteer behavioral health. <http://www.vbhcs.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=1029&cn=7>
  14. ^ “Conversations with History, Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes" Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. < http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Scheper-Hughes/sh-con0.html>
  15. ^ “Conversations with History, Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes" Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. < http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Scheper-Hughes/sh-con0.html>
  16. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 1993 Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Second edition).
  17. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995 The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36 (3):409-20.
  18. ^ “Conversations with History, Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes" Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. < http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Scheper-Hughes/sh-con0.html>
  19. ^ “Conversations with History, Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes" Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. < http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Scheper-Hughes/sh-con0.html>
  20. ^ “Nancy Scheper-Hughes” Berkeley, Department of Anthropology. <http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/users/nancy-scheper-hughes.>
  21. ^ Scheper‐Hughes N. Rotten trade. Anthropological Quaterly 2004. 77197–202.202
  22. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 2004 Parts unknown: Undercover ethnography of the organs-trafficking underworld. Ethnography 5 (1):29 -73
  23. ^ "Nancy Scheper-Hughes” Berkeley, Department of Anthropology. <http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/users/nancy-scheper-hughes.>
  24. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1995 The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36 (3):409-20.
  25. ^ Scholars to receive William Sloan Coffin Awards for moral leadership. April 7, 2007. < http://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=31733>
  26. ^ Scheper-Hughes, N. 2003 Rotten Trade: Millennial Capitalism, Human Values and Global Justice in Organs Trafficking. Journal of Human Rights 2(2):197-226.
  27. ^ Scheper-Hughes, N. 2003 Rotten Trade: Millennial Capitalism, Human Values and Global Justice in Organs Trafficking. Journal of Human Rights 2(2):197-226.
  28. ^ Estrada, Ivelisse. “An Anthropologist Investigates the Traffic in Human Organs.”Radcliffe Quarterly-Winter 2007.<http://www.radcliffe.edu/print/about/quarterly/w07_organs.htm>
  29. ^ Estrada, Ivelisse. “An Anthropologist Investigates the Traffic in Human Organs.”Radcliffe Quarterly-Winter 2007.<http://www.radcliffe.edu/print/about/quarterly/w07_organs.htm>
  30. ^ Hippen B E. 2005 In defense of a regulated market in kidneys from living vendors. J Med Philos 30603–605.605
  31. ^ Taylor J S. 2005 Stakes and kidneys: Why markets in human body parts are morally imperative Aldershot: Ashgate Press. 182
  32. ^ Marshall M, 2000 Comment on Nancy Scheper‐Hughes, ‘Global Traffic in Human Organs', Curr Anthropol 41215–216.216
  33. ^ Taylor, JS 2007 A “Queen of Hearts” trial of organ markets: why Scheper‐Hughes's objections to markets in human organs fail. J Med Ethics. 2007 April; 33(4): 201–204.
  34. ^ Kellett, Peter. 2009 Advocacy in Anthropology: Active engagement or passive scholarship? Durham Anthropology Journal, 16(1),22-31. <http://www.dur.ac.uk/anthropology.journal/vol16/iss1/kellett.pdf>