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The Referential Functions of Agency: Health workers in medical missions to Madiha (Kulina) Indians in the Brazilian Amazon

Frenopoulo, Christian (2012) The Referential Functions of Agency: Health workers in medical missions to Madiha (Kulina) Indians in the Brazilian Amazon. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation presents the results of a study of health workers in a medical mission in the Brazilian Amazon. The study aims to scrutinize health mission workers’ perceived capacities and abilities to deliver itinerant biomedical health services to Madiha (Kulina) Indians in the Brazilian Amazon.
Participant observation with the health mission workers involved accompanying them in medical mission trips to Madiha villages and settlements in the Upper Purus River region. Madiha are hunters and manioc horticulturalists.
The research shows that health mission workers participate in three social spaces during a mission journey. In the work space, they perform rigid role behaviors that emphasize biomedical technical procedure and the use of imported technical practices and knowledge. In their domestic space, located on the boat that they use for living and traveling, their behaviors emphasize ethnic similarity and a self-assumed status as trustees of the Madiha population’s health welfare. In the population’s domestic spaces, they attempt to participate in activities that can award them a status as equals to the villagers.
The analysis of their interactions in these spaces suggests that their capacities and abilities are constructed according to a foreign/local polarity. The polarity underscores their missionary status as expert outsiders who need to engage in active efforts to achieve legitimacy among the patient population. Throughout the day, they constantly switch their positioning relative to one another and to the villagers, in order to navigate the ambiguity of their missionary status. In this way, they inhabit the various domestic and work spaces differently, cross-referencing each space with alternating behaviors.
The dissertation attempts to contribute to the theory of human agency in anthropology by proposing that agency configurations are not properties of social actors, but circumstantial indexes of relative position in specific types of relationships. Agency is comprehensible relative to role arrangements. In this sense, agency would have two referential functions. Agency would indicate an actor’s position relative to resources and relative to other actors. Thus, agency attribution is an interpretation of the value of actions and of the relative status of actors.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDeWalt, Kathleenkmdewalt@pitt.eduKMDEWALT
Committee MemberAlter, Josephjsalter@pitt.eduJSALTER
Committee MemberKeane, Christophercrkcity@pitt.eduCRKCITY
Committee MemberFrechione, Johnjfrech@pitt.eduJFRECH
Date: 26 September 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 July 2012
Approval Date: 26 September 2012
Submission Date: 12 August 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 431
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: agency, healthcare workers, medical mission, Amazon, Kulina, Indians
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2012 00:55
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:01


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