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Healing networks and intercultural communication: The Pewenche case


Admission requirements

BA in Latin American Studies, Archaeology or related discipline


In 2008, after almost twenty years of negotiations within the Chilean Parliament, the Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organization (OLI/ONU) was finally approved, Chile being the latest country to sign it. This document is the most significant international legal tool in relation to protect and acknowledging the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. This convention is of particular importance, since it claims that governments shall ensure the availability of adequate health services to indigenous peoples, or shall provide them with resources to allow them to design and deliver such services under their own responsibility and control in their local communities. Generally speaking, this document points to strengthening multicultural sensitivity within health programs all over the country, yet it does not define what ‘multicultural’ entails.

Framed in this context, this course aims to examine the immensely complex intercultural communication embedded in the existing relations between indigenous Mapuche’ healing-practices and the state’ biomedical-practices. The main objective of this course is to explore the extent to which healing practices of Indigenous Peoples are embedded in a conceptualization of personhood, being, and cosmos, as well as agency, that may be incommensurate with that typically utilized in western biological understandings about the body and its illnesses. More specifically, the course will focus on how the person is being conceptualized in interactions between Mapuche people –healers and patients- and public health workers of the Chilean state.

The central question this course aims to address is the extent to which this working Mapuche/Biomedical relation is premised on an incommensurate (ontological) understandings of what ‘humanity’ and the ‘body’ might mean. Taking as starting point a growing literature on ‘perspectival’ ontologies from elsewhere in indigenous South America, the course analyzes the practical consequences occurring in terms of treatments and health prevention when “multicultural” policies in public health are proposed and implemented encouraging collaboration between different cosmologies. The course will build upon a body of recent ethnographic field-work among Mapuche Indigenous peoples in Southern Chile.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Recognize the complexity of the intercultural communication and relations between indigenous peoples and nation-states

  • Describe and analyse the practical implications of this drive to create networks of healing between cosmologies that involve different ontological notions about social relations within dialogues that imply dynamic notions of the body

  • Critically evaluate notions of agency, disease and illness in networks of healing considering medical treatments and projects in health prevention

  • Demonstrate the relevance of indigenous thought to the critical evaluation of predominantly European epistemologies.


Thursday 11-13

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar
    The course will be taught over seven sessions. The first half of each session will consist of a lecture, while the second half of each session will alternate between students’ critical presentation of the seminar readings and a class discussion of the lecture topic.

Assessment method

  • Active participation in discussion (20%)

  • PowerPoint presentation (30%)

  • Written short assignments, including a final paper (50%)

Reading list

To be announced.