Migrant Indigeneity: Transnational Health Policy Implementation Structuring The Body, Identity, & Belief
Author(s)Burnett, Diana A
Public Health Education and Promotion
Social and Cultural Anthropology
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AbstractGlobally, the rates of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) have increased dramatically. Concurrently, analyses of the disproportionate rates of these diseases in certain populations have led to an increased production of research and literature on health disparities specifically focused on race and interventions to address these disproportions. Nevertheless, few studies have focused on 1) how communities develop, adopt, and implement their own policies to prevent disease and reduce NCD risk and 2) how communities engage with racial health disparities discourse that characterizes the health profiles of their community. This study examines how Hebrew Israelites, a transnational spiritual community with members across five continents, implement a set of global health policies which respond to the need for studies on community-based responses to racial health disparities. Drawing on over nineteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in 2012, 2013, and 2014-16, across three sites – Israel/Palestine, South Africa, and the United States – with Hebrews from around the world, this dissertation demonstrates how Hebrews utilize the body as a site to engage the processes of racialization and the cultural production of indigeneity that emerges through global health policy implementation. The project’s primary intervention is the deployment of migrant indigeneity, an analytic and theoretical framework developed to interpret the Hebrew-specific production of an indigenous sociality that creates and supports the health policy implementation process to reduce disease risk. I argue that the Hebrew indigenous self-making process, which community members undergo, is critical to any success in adherence to the Hebrew health policies. Given the processes of racialization that are often imposed onto the body – here disease risk and status – the Hebrews present counter narratives and arguments that re-structure their possibilities for health and wellness through their spiritual identity and beliefs as the primary mechanism for identity and behavior. Through re-imagining and re-positioning individual selves in relationship to the Hebrew community and the externally derived category of race, the Hebrews illustrate the importance of cultural identity, specifically a commitment to the indigenous practices of their ancestors, to respond to the current public health goals of population-based health promotion and disease risk reduction.