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Med Anthropol. 2011 Jul;30(4):425-49. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2011.576728.

Structural vulnerability and hierarchies of ethnicity and citizenship on the farm.

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  • 1Division of Health and Social Behavior, University of California, Berkeley, 50 University Hall MC #7360, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Every year, the United States employs nearly two million seasonal farm laborers, approximately half of whom are migrants (Rothenberg 1998). This article utilizes one year of participant observation on a berry farm in Washington State to analyze hierarchies of ethnicity and citizenship, structural vulnerability, and health disparities in agriculture in the United States. The farm labor structure is organized along a segregated continuum from US citizen Anglo-American to US citizen Latino, undocumented mestizo Mexican to undocumented indigenous Mexican. The ethnography shows how this structure symbolically reinforces conflations of race with perceptions of civilized and modern subjects. These hierarchies produce what is now understood in medical anthropology as structural vulnerability among those with poor living and housing conditions, producing social disparities in health. The ethnographic data argue against the common presumption that social hierarchies are willed by powerful individuals by showing the structural production of these social inequalities and their concomitant health disparities.

Copyright © 2011 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

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