at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Medical & Health Issues in SE Asia


Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life
Aihwa Ong

In Fungible Life Aihwa Ong explores the dynamic world of cutting-edge bioscience research, offering critical insights into the complex ways Asian bioscientific worlds and cosmopolitan sciences are entangled in a tropical environment brimming with the threat of emergent diseases. At biomedical centers in Singapore and China scientists map genetic variants, disease risks, and biomarkers, mobilizing ethnicized “Asian” bodies and health data for genomic research. Their differentiation between Chinese, Indian, and Malay DNA makes fungible Singapore’s ethnic-stratified databases that come to “represent” majority populations in Asia. By deploying genomic science as a public good, researchers reconfigure the relationships between objects, peoples, and spaces, thus rendering “Asia” itself as a shifting entity. In Ong’s analysis, Asia emerges as a richly layered mode of entanglements, where the population’s genetic pasts, anxieties and hopes, shared genetic weaknesses, and embattled genetic futures intersect. Furthermore, her illustration of the contrasting methods and goals of the Biopolis biomedical center in Singapore and BGI Genomics in China raises questions about the future direction of cosmopolitan science in Asia and beyond.
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Histories of Health in Southeast Asia
Editors: Tim Harper and Sunil S. Amrith

Health patterns in Southeast Asia have changed profoundly over the past century. In that period, epidemic and chronic diseases, environmental transformations, and international health institutions have created new connections within the region and the increased interdependence of Southeast Asia with China and India. In this volume leading scholars provide a new approach to the history of health in Southeast Asia. Framed by a series of synoptic pieces on the “Landscapes of Health” in Southeast Asia in 1914, 1950, and 2014 the essays interweave local, national, and regional perspectives. They range from studies of long-term processes such as changing epidemics, mortality and aging, and environmental history to detailed accounts of particular episodes: the global cholera epidemic and the hajj, the influenza epidemic of 1918, WWII, and natural disasters. The writers also examine state policy on healthcare and the influence of organizations, from NGOs such as the China Medical Board and the Rockefeller Foundation to grassroots organizations in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

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Consoling Ghosts: Stories of Medicine and Mourning from Southeast Asians in Exile
Jean M. Langford

In conversation with emigrants from Laos and Cambodia, Jean M. Langford repeatedly met with spirits: the wandering souls of the seriously ill, dangerous ghosts of those who died by violence, restless ancestors displaced from their homes. For these emigrants, the dead not only appear in memories, safely ensconced in the past, but also erupt with a physical force into the daily life and dreams of the present.

Inspired by these conversations, Consoling Ghosts is a sustained contemplation of relationships with the dying and the dead. At their heart, as Langford’s work reveals, emigrants’ stories are parables not of cultural difference but rather of life and death. Langford inquires how and why spirits become implicated in remembering and responding to violence, whether the bloody violence of war or the more structural violence of social marginalization and poverty. What is at stake, she asks, when spirits break out of their usual confinement as symbolic figures for history, heritage, or trauma to haunt the corridors of hospitals and funeral homes? Emigrants’ theories and stories of ghosts, Langford suggests, inherently question the metaphorical status of spirits, in the process challenging both contemporary bioethics of dying and dominant styles of mourning. Consoling Ghosts explores the possibilities opened up by a more literal existence of ghosts, from the confrontation of shades of past violence through bodily ritual to rites of mourning that unfold in acts of material care for the dead instead of memorialization.
Ultimately the book invites us to consider alternate ways of facing death, conducting relationships with the dead and dying, and addressing the effects of violence that continue to reverberate in bodies and social worlds.

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Global Movements, Local Concerns: Medicine and Health in Southeast Asia
Editors: Laurence Monnais and Harold J. Cook

The development of medicine in Southeast Asia over the past two centuries has not been a simple imposition of European scientific medicine, but a complex and negotiated process that drew on Southeast Asian health experts, local medical traditions, and changing national and popular expectations. The contributors to this volume show how the practices of health in Southeast Asia over the past two centuries were mediated by local medical traditions, colonial interests, governments and policies, international interventions, and by a wide range of health agents and intermediaries. Their findings call into question many of the claims based on medicalization and biopolitics that treat change as a process of rupture.

While governments, both colonial and national, instituted policies that affected large numbers of people, much health care remained rooted in a more interactive and locally-mediated experience, in which tradition, adaptation and hybridization is as important as innovation and conflict. “Semi-subaltern” Western-trained doctors and varied traditional healers, many of them women, were among the cultural brokers involved in the building of healthcare systems, and helped circulate mixed practices and ideas about medicine and health even as they found their place in new professional and social hierarchies in an era of globalization.

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