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Title:Type II diabetes and the embodiment of development in post-colonial Belize
Author(s):Schmidt, Michelle Lee
Director of Research:Gille, Zsuzsa
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gille, Zsuzsa
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Bayat, Asef; Dill, Brian; Liao, Tim; Marshall, Anna
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Health and Illness
Mopan Maya
Food Systems
Non-communicable Disease
Wage Labor
Abstract:This dissertation explores diabetes as the embodiment of pathological forms of development on a Maya reservation in Belize, C.A. The global diabetes pandemic is estimated to affect 10% of the world’s population, with 80% of diabetes related deaths occurring in developing countries. Belize is especially hard hit by this epidemic, with 15-32% of the population currently suffering from diabetes. However, Maya communities in southern Belize demonstrate notably lower prevalence of diabetes (approximately 2%) than the national rates. Many residents of these communities attribute lower prevalence to the purposeful retention of traditional cultural-ecological activities in reservation communities, which has been secured through ongoing political and legal activism by Maya leaders. Using long term ethnographic research and interview techniques, I draw on Maya perspectives and lived experience to both critique contemporary development practices, and suggest alternatives. Maya informants explain that peasant farming provides resilience to nutritional disease by routinizing healthy material and social relationships. The foods produced through subsistence farming are nutritional and the habitus of peasant labor expels bodily contaminants, like sugar. However, informants find it increasingly difficult to maintain these practices in the context of hegemonic modernization, despite widespread agreement that aspects of Maya tradition are necessary for good health. People of today are perceived to be less embedded in relational food systems, more sakan (lazy) rather than sakol (hard working), and more burdened with tokolil (stress) than people of previous generations. These lifestyle changes produce metabolic sickness, an embodied extension of the distorted metabolism of capitalist development. Maya struggles to retain the peasant farming lifestyle in the face of ongoing development reveal the structural production of diabetes risk factors in the alienation of food, labor, body, and community. Informants assert that the rapid changes of modernization need to be tempered with traditional continuity to encourage healthy metabolic relationships. The pandemic dimensions of diabetes show that consensus prevention efforts are failing. Global health interventions are rooted in individualistic, biomedical models of illness that emphasize health surveillance and self-regulation. However, Maya strategies to promote disease resilience suggest the need for a more collective approach to agency at the policy level. Rather than education and consumer “choices,” interventions need to focus on reforming the exploitative food, labor, and health systems endemic to neo-colonial forms of development.
Issue Date:2018-04-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Michelle Schmidt
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-04
Date Deposited:2018-05

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