“Negotiated borders and undocumented bodies” is the working title of my thesis. Sure, but what what does it mean? What is a body? In relation to what, and to whom? Profound questions indeed, and i think that they have to be posed in order for me to continue.
Doing a research project on health care access for undocumented migrants, such things as broken bones, aching teeth, heightened blood pressure, tumours, repetitive strains, psychosomatic pain, and other health related body issues are inescapable parts of my material, my daily discussions and thoughts. I have been accused by fellow geographers for having a medicalized idea of what the body is, and these themes however fit badly into any of the discussions of bodies, embodiment or other bodyisms in the social sciences of our era.
But let me take an example:
Henry Ascher at Rosengrenska stiftelsen tells me that many undocumented migrants that he meets in his volunteer work have bad teeth. The Rosengrenska clinic for undocumented migrants have volunteering dentists come screen the undocumented patients, and offer free dental care to those that are in need of it. These dentists claim that, apart from helping persons with no access to dental care, these screenings are important learning experiences for dentists. Within the undocumented group, they find cavities and deteriorated teeth in a state very seldom seen in the Swedish population. So, what does this mean?
In terms of inscription on the body, we can surely talk about “bad teeth” as having no access to dental care (due to certain political/legal/social/economic or other discriminatory features of society) inscribed on the body. This inscription can then be read by others: ”bad teeth” as a mark of “no access to dental care” or “poor” or “undocumented”. Bad teeth is not only the result of discrimination, but may also lead to discrimination, on the labour market or in society in general.
These two strands of research paying attention to the body are much preoccupied with text and discourse, and I can’t but think that there is more to it worth discussing. What about the pain of having bad teeth? What about other health risks related to bad teeth?
Phenomenology comes some distance with this, by situating the body in the centre of our lives, the lived body as a veichle for emotion, empathy and intersubjectivity. There is also some stuff on phenomenology of pain that i haven had time to look closer at yet. Here then, I should be able to think about pain and suffering (due to bad teeth) as experiences individuals endure as products of discrimination (political/social/economic or what have you). Taking a phenomenological point of view will permit me to talk of the experience of bad teeth as something important.
Fine, but still, there is more to it. How about high blood pressure? Is that stress inscribed in the body? Is that something that can be read on the body? No I’m not sure I’m posing this question right. Lets rephrase: The high prevalence of heightened blood pressure among, often very young undoumented migrants, and the threat that that poses to these persons very lives, how do I discuss that in a way that the important elements in this come to the fore? It seems all to often forgotten or obscured by theoretizations of inscription and body as text, that what that text consists of may snuff the life out of these persons. This can be contrasted with the bluntness of the medical professions.
With all this said, I am absolutely able and willing to see these health issues risks as a legal or political situation manifest and/or inscribed in undocumented bodies, and include other issues otherwise discussed under the headline of embodiment such as viscerality and other stuff i also, to be honest havent read much about.
I’ll end here, because I have to go move my car to avoid getting more parking tickets.