Rethinking Diabetes: Entanglements with Trauma, Poverty, and HIV

by Emily Mendenhall (Author), Mark Nichter (Foreword)

In Rethinking Diabetes, Emily Mendenhall investigates how global and local factors transform how diabetes is perceived, experienced, and embodied from place to place. Mendenhall argues that the link between sugar and diabetes overshadows the ways in which underlying biological processes linking hunger, oppression, trauma, unbridled stress, and chronic mental distress produce diabetes. The life history narratives in the book show how deeply embedded these factors are in the ways diabetes is experienced and (re)produced among poor communities around the world.

Rethinking Diabetes focuses on the stories of women living with diabetes near or below the poverty line in urban settings in the United States, India, South Africa, and Kenya. Mendenhall shows how women’s experiences of living with diabetes cannot be dissociated from their social responsibilities of caregiving, demanding family roles, expectations, and gendered experiences of violence that often displace their ability to care for themselves first. These case studies reveal the ways in which a global story of diabetes overlooks the unique social, political, and cultural factors that produce syndemic diabetes differently across contexts.

From the case studies, Rethinking Diabetes clearly provides some important parallels for scholars to consider: significant social and economic inequalities, health systems that are a mix of public and private (with substandard provisions for low-income patients), and rising diabetes incidence and prevalence. At the same time, Mendenhall asks us to unpack how social, cultural, and epidemiological factors shape people’s experiences and why we need to take these differences seriously when we think about what drives diabetes and how it affects the lives of the poor

“An erudite work of original and seminal scholarship, Rethinking Diabetes is an extraordinary study that is especially and unreservedly recommended.”

, Midwest Book Review
“Emily Mendenhall critically explores how global health is confronting the rising prevalence of diabetes in the face of poverty, crippled health care systems, and HIV/AIDS. Her approach transcends epidemiological associations and paves the way for consideration of similar entanglements of disease, poverty, and local experience.”

– Janet McGrath, Case Western Reserve University


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