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Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor [Hardcover]

Paul Farmer , Amartya Sen
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 45.96 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

April 25 2003 California Series in Public Anthropology (Book 4)
Pathologies of Power uses harrowing stories of life—and death—in extreme situations to interrogate our understanding of human rights. Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist with twenty years of experience working in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, argues that promoting the social and economic rights of the world’s poor is the most important human rights struggle of our times. With passionate eyewitness accounts from the prisons of Russia and the beleaguered villages of Haiti and Chiapas, this book links the lived experiences of individual victims to a broader analysis of structural violence. Farmer challenges conventional thinking within human rights circles and exposes the relationships between political and economic injustice, on one hand, and the suffering and illness of the powerless, on the other.

Farmer shows that the same social forces that give rise to epidemic diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis also sculpt risk for human rights violations. He illustrates the ways that racism and gender inequality in the United States are embodied as disease and death. Yet this book is far from a hopeless inventory of abuse. Farmer’s disturbing examples are linked to a guarded optimism that new medical and social technologies will develop in tandem with a more informed sense of social justice. Otherwise, he concludes, we will be guilty of managing social inequality rather than addressing structural violence. Farmer’s urgent plea to think about human rights in the context of global public health and to consider critical issues of quality and access for the world’s poor should be of fundamental concern to a world characterized by the bizarre proximity of surfeit and suffering.

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Review

"It's crucial that we confront the link Farmer reveals between social inequality and disease."--"Utne"

From the Inside Flap

"This is an angry and a hopeful book, and, like everything Dr. Farmer has written, it has both passion and authority. Pathologies of Power is an eloquent plea for a working definition of human rights that would not neglect the most basic rights of all: food, shelter and health. This plea has special potency because it comes from Dr. Farmer, a person who has proven that the dream of universal and comprehensive human rights is possible, and who has brought food, shelter, health, and hope to some of the poorest people on this earth."—Tracy Kidder, author of The Soul of a New Machine and Home Town

"Farmer's brilliance and charisma leap from the pages of his book. He challenges us to face the urgent theoretical and political challenges of the twenty-first century by linking structural violence to embodied social suffering and in the process calls for a new definition of human rights. Once this book is out, we will no longer be able to remain complacently--or rather, complicitly--on the sidelines."—Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

"A passionate critique of conventional biomedical ethics by one of the world's leading physician-anthropologists and public intellectuals. Farmer's on-the-ground analysis of the relentless march of the AIDS epidemic and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis among the imprisoned and the sick-poor of the world illuminates the pathologies of a world economy that has lost its soul."—Nancy Scheper-Hughes , author of Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil

"In his compelling book, Farmer captures the central dilemma of our times—the increasing disparities of health and well-being within and among societies. While all member countries of the United Nations denounce the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by those who torture, murder, or imprison without due process, the insidious violations of human rights due to structural violence involving the denial of economic opportunity, decent housing, or access to health care and education are commonly ignored. Pathologies of Power makes a powerful case that our very humanity is threatened by our collective failure to end these abuses."—Robert S. Lawrence, President of Physicians for Human Rights and Edyth Schoenrich Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University

"Farmer has given us that most rare of books: one that opens both our minds and hearts. It stands as a model of engaged scholarship and an urgent call for social scientists to forsake their cushy disregard for human rights at home and abroad."—Loïc Wacquant, author of Prisons of Poverty

"Paul Farmer is an original: a powerful writer, an insightful theorist, and a human rights activist on behalf of the health needs of some of the poorest and most excluded people on the planet. Pathologies of Power brings together all his strengths, as a thinker and an activist. Every health worker, human rights teacher, and government official who seeks to improve the health status and life chances of their fellow human beings simply must read this book."—Michael Ignatieff, author of Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry

"Paul Farmer is a great doctor with massive experience working against the hardest of diseases in the most adverse circumstances, and, at the same time, he is a proficient and insightful anthropologist. Farmer's knowledge of maladies such as AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis, which he fights on behalf of his indigent patients, is hard to match. But what is particularly relevant in appreciating the contribution of this powerful book is that Farmer is a visionary analyst who looks beyond the details of fragmentary explanations to seek an integrated understanding of a complex reality."—Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, Economics

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Giving a voice to nobodies… July 22 2006
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
There are some books whose message is so pertinent to your daily life that they stay with you for a long time. Farmer's PATHOLOGIES OF POWER will have a profound impression on you. Its substance is highly relevant for current topical debates, whether on Medicare and the forty million uninsured in the US, the Canadian government's ambition to "fix" healthcare or on strategies to fight health pandemics like HIV/AIDS. Farmer submits an emphatic challenge to the medical profession, to political and business leaders, mainstream media and all of us.

Farmer stands emphatically on the side of the destitute, marginalized and usually overlooked. His vivid case studies exemplify the fate of millions of "nobodies" - the silent majority of the world's population who have none or inadequate heath care. Why, he asks, are health care services not made available to all human beings irrespective of race, gender, locale, or the ability to pay? Is it not a fundamental human right? Why do millions in developing countries, in the slums of US cities or prisons in Russia, die prematurely of infectious diseases to which medical research has found successful treatments? Can we morally accept that medical research prioritizes cures for baldness or impotence over medicines that protect from drug-resistant tuberculosis or malaria? And, where has medical ethics come to that condones, or even supports, the "commodification" of medicine? How can cost-effectiveness and the ability to pay apply to essential medical treatment? he queries.

Rooted in his deep belief in human dignity and the fundamental nature of human rights, Farmer also draws strength from liberation theology as he "walks the talk".
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5.0 out of 5 stars Take Two Aspirin and Read This Book April 10 2004
Format:Hardcover
Paul Farmer's "Pathologies of Power" will probably give you a headache, undoubtedly cause sleep disturbance, and very likely turn your stomach. In short, it will make you sick. But if you are well enough to read this and rich enough to consider purchasing the book, you are better off than the "disposable millions" whose lives he illuminates and honors in this indictment of global public health as-we-know-it. In this passionate and well-researched treatise, a world-class physician takes his own disciplines of medicine and anthropology to task for failing to ask the right questions. Then, noting that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in the most affluent country in the world, he blows through its defense of those extraordinary profits like a gust of fresh air. A similarly searing deconstruction of health policymakers' rationale for "cost-effectiveness" and their elite argot of oppression reveals a blame-the-victim mentality that plagues the world and explains why, in the midst of unprecedented wealth, over 40 million Americans are without health insurance of any kind. And that is just the beginning.
While Farmer's hospital in Haiti, Zanmi Lasante, is not the only hospital to successfully combat the forces of poverty and disease in that country (Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in the Artibonite Valley predates Farmer's project by nearly three decades), his twenty-year presence in Central Haiti has resulted in a deep understanding of how structural violence on a global scale is a leading cause of disease and death among the world's poor, wherever they may live.
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5.0 out of 5 stars St. Paul Farmer Aug. 5 2003
Format:Hardcover
Dr. Farmer argues that, at the very least, access to health care should be a basic human right, especially if we are to uphold the belief that all human lives are equally valuable. Pathologies of Power is an indictment on the social structures that exist to keep the destitute poor of the world just as they are - destitute, impoverished, and without hope. While the powers-that-be make excuses, Dr. Farmer provides solutions that are, indeed, quite simple. His passion for his struggle to provide health care to the poorest of the poor is matched only by his disdain for the social inequities that perpetuate the structural violence inflicted upon the least fortunate of the world. It is heartening to know that there are a few compassionates, amongst the millions of complacent, that work so tirelessly to effect change that is so desperately needed. Hopefully this book will serve as a wake-up call for the rest of us.
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3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars March 27 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I greatly respect Dr. Farmer's work and have followed Partners In Health's efforts in Haiti over the last several years. While this book has substantive significance in its attempts to discuss several public health and human rights crises in their social, economic, and political contexts; I think it fails to make a cohesive point or tell a cohesive story in the way that a book (rather than a collection of essays) demands. As a public health and human rights worker, I understand where Farmer was trying to go with his writing but I don't think he actually gets there in a coherent way. Perhaps he should have focused only on one health issue or country in order to more fully flesh out his thesis.
I do recommend this book as well as a visit to the Partners in Health web site at [...]
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