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Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment



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Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment by Joao Biehl
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Zones of social abandonment are emerging everywhere in Brazil's big cities - places like Vita, where the unwanted, the mentally ill, the sick, and the homeless are left to die. This haunting, unforgettable story centers on a young woman named Catarina, increasingly paralyzed and said to be mad, living out her time at Vita. Anthropologist Joao Biehl leads a detective-like journey to know Catarina; to unravel the cryptic, poetic words that are part of the "dictionary" she is compiling, and to trace the complex network of family, medicine, state, and economy in which her abandonment and pathology took form. As Biehl painstakingly relates Catarina's words to a vanished world and elucidates her condition, we learn of subjectivities unmade and remade under economic pressures, pharmaceuticals as moral technologies, a public common sense that lets the unsound and unproductive die, and anthropology's unique power to work through these juxtaposed fields. Vita's methodological innovations, bold fieldwork, and rigorous social theory make it an essential reading for anyone who is grappling with how to understand the conditions of life, thought and ethics in the contemporary world.

Table of Contents

Introduction: "Dead alive, dead outside, alive inside" PART ONE. VITA A Zone of Social Abandonment The Politics of Death Citizenship PART TWO. CATARINA AND THE ALPHABET The Life of the Mind A Society of Bodies Brazil Ex-Human The House and the Animal "Love is the illusion of the abandoned" Social Psychosis An Illness of Time God, Sex, and Agency PART THREE. THE MEDICAL ARCHIVE A Deadening Language Schizophrenia The Right to Health and Psychiatric Reform Life Determinations Catarina and Medical Science No Human Relations Dead Voices The House of Mental Health The Model City An Epidemic of Mental Illness "I am like this because of life" The Typical Symptom Pharmaceutical Abandonment PART FOUR. THE FAMILY Unused Words A Medical Visit Semblance The Fraternal Tie The In-Laws and Ex-Husband A Family Business The Pharmakos Temporality PART FIVE. BIOLOGY AND ETHICS Reason Jurisprudence and Morality Currency The Biological Complex The Family Tree A Genetic Population A Lost Chance PART SIX. THE DICTIONARY "Underneath was this, which I do not attempt to name" Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII Book XIII Book XIV Book XV Book XVI Book XVII Book XVIII Book XIX Conclusion: "A way to the words" Postscript: "I am part of the origins, not just of language, but of people" Acknowledgments Notes Bibliography Index

Author Biography

Joao Biehl is Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. Torben Eskerod is an artist and works as a freelance photographer in Copenhagen. His website is
Release date Australia
June 21st, 2005
Photographs by Torben Eskerod
Country of Publication
United States
30 b/w photographs
University of California Press
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