Spring 2023 Colloquium - Merlin Chowkwanyun
School of Public Health, Columbia University
Title: Local Politics and Health Reform, Then and Now
Abstract: Conventional medical research fetishes conclusions derived from aggregate (typically quantitative) datasets. What results are top-down, national narratives of health policy that marginalize the thick experience of specific places. This talk takes an alternative approach and argues that one cannot understand the origins of health problems -- and the success of solutions to address them -- without analyzing the local context that surrounds them. We'll examine battles over pollution caused by industrial giants, coal extractors and fights over the unequal distribution of medical care in major cities via deep dives -- not ephemeral stops -- in four localities: New York City, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Central Appalachia. In addition to arguing for the virtues of the local optic, this lecture will also analyze localism as a political practice, which was embraced by community health advocates in the mid-20th century, only to fizzle and confront new challenges a few decades later that remain today.