Saturday, May 22, 2021

Martin Halliwell's "American Health Crisis"

Martin Halliwell is Professor of American Studies at the University of Leicester. He has authored and edited fourteen books, including Therapeutic Revolutions: Medicine, Psychiatry, and American Culture, 1945–1970; Voices of Mental Health: Medicine, Politics, and American Culture, 1970–2000; and The Edinburgh Companion to the Politics of American Health.

Halliwell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Health Crisis: One Hundred Years of Panic, Planning, and Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the penultimate page of Chapter 2 of American Health Crisis, which focuses on the intersection of poverty and poor health via three historical case studies. The chapter’s final case study discusses the health challenges faced by the Oglala Sioux on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota in the late 1990s. The page opens by completing a discussion of Sioux educator Adrian Lewis’s 1995 novel Skins, particularly the role of the Pine Ridge Hospital which fades in and out of focus as the novel’s lead character Rudy Yellow Shirt teeters on the brink of ill health and psychosis. Rudy leads a ghostly, alienated existence for much of the story, but towards the end of the novel he finds new agency in an act of protest at the site of the Mount Rushmore presidential monument which scars stolen Sioux land. I then develop this theme of ghostliness with reference to the ritual of the Ghost Dance that was popularized on the Great Plains in the 1880s and has since been used as a metaphor for collective resistance (following the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890), as well as a channel for ancestral spirits. The final paragraph takes the theme of ghostliness further as a symbol of deep economic disparities, especially in regions where health services are scarce or inadequate.

This theme of ghostliness is prominent in Chapter 2, but page 100 is arguably more representative of American Health Crisis as a whole. Page 100 concludes the chapter by thinking of ghostliness not simply as a trope of loss or neglect, but also as a channel for voices from the past and a resource for the present and future, aligned with what Danielle Raudenbush calls “strategies for survival”. The focus of my book on historical health crises and the vulnerabilities they uncover is evoked in the discussion on pages 99–100, as well as the possibility of a more active form of health citizenship at the local level (“citizenship” is a problematic term when thinking about American Indian tribes). This focus on community contrasts with the often failed commitment of the federal government to level-up health services across the country – linked, in this instance, to the economic opportunities that President Clinton promised the Oglala Sioux when he visited Pine Ridge in July 1999. If the reader wants a snapshot of the book’s central themes and how its case studies interleave historical, cultural, political and medical material, then pages 99 and 100, taken together, are a very good starting point.
Learn more about American Health Crisis at the University of California Press website, and read Halliwell's essay, "Breaking the Cycle of Health Crises."

--Marshal Zeringue