INTD Global Health and Human Rights

Every day we are confronted with accounts of domestic and global tragedies: inadequate health care, the spread of disease, violence and death.  We see frightening images of mangled corpses, of the bodies of infants wasted by malnutrition and illness, of land barren and scorched.  We hear stories of impossible suffering in the absence of available health care, shelter, food and water, of gross violations of bodies through illegal organ trading, torture and rape, and of unbelievable miscarriages of justice on the part of groups, governments and corporations.  These images and stories reach us through our magazines, newspapers, the internet, television, movies and novels. Have you ever thought about the impact of these popular depictions—both "fact" and fiction—on the public's understanding of global health and human rights, on policy decisions, and even on scientific research agendas and medical practices?  That is what this course will ask you to do throughout this semester.

Along the way, we will give ourselves a very broad introduction to the subjects of "global health" and "human rights," and to the way that—through the work of the World Health Organization, the public appeals of Paul Farmer, and others—we have become increasingly familiar with looking at global health through the lens of human rights.  This lens allows us to see the "health problems" in front of us not only as matters of dangerous microbes and damaged bodies, but also as matters of embedded structural violence and social injustice, of unequal access to resources, and of a complex interaction of many actors, including aid agencies, celebrities, governments, corporations and the media itself.

As we explore a few general topic areas—such as access to healthcare, emerging infections and AIDS, genocide and torture—our inquiries will concern not only what the problems are and what is being done about them, but also how we are coming to learn about them in the first place, and how this delivery impacts our perceptions of these problems and our feelings about how they should be resolved.  We will work from the premise that the images and representations we encounter—whether through journalism, film or fiction—significantly shape the ways we understand what is at stake in the problem, who/what is to blame, what can be done about it, and just what merits consideration as a "global health" or a "human rights" issue in the first place.  We will apply the methods and approaches of literary criticism—careful attention to language, images and stories—to our study of these representations as they appear in a wide variety of "texts."  Aesthetics is the study of how a work of art evokes particular feelings.  In this class, we will extend that exploration to works that are not typically thought of as "art" and consider the "vocabulary," imagery and storylines that are shaping public perception of and attitudes towards health and human rights issues in the U.S. and abroad.  We are all, after all, part of that public.

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