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Learning from Latin American Social Medicine: Insights for Health Geography

Authors: Eric Carter*, Macalester College
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Latin America, Historical Geography
Keywords: public health, social medicine, development, Latin America
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This talk draws on a multi-year research project on the development of Latin American social medicine (LASM) from the early 1900s to the present. Social medicine in Latin America has continually decentered the epistemological foundations of mainstream approaches in international health and medicine by offering deep, theoretically informed analysis of socio-structural determinants of health, framed within a critique of capitalist development. It takes a rights-based approach while also insisting on the ontological primacy of the social collective as opposed to the methodological individualism of positivist health sciences. As a social movement, LASM has been effective in merging theory and practice (i.e. praxis), and demonstrates the political possibilities of health professionals working with other social movements, particularly pro-democracy, human rights, feminist, indigenous rights, and environmental movements. As this book project is drawing to a close, I share my reflections about its relevance for bridging three subfields of geography: health/medical geography, development geography, and historical geography. In particular, I argue for the value of historicizing ideas, networks, and institutions of international public health for the often ahistorical field of health/medical geography. I further argue that the development of LASM offers an unconventional history of the health social sciences (including geography) and alternative visions of socially just and effective health policy based in so-called "epistemologies of the South."

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