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Thoughts on Missed 11/21 Class

chelseam's picture

I really enjoyed the readings for last week’s class. While reading the excerpts of Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power, I was intrigued by his call to arms of sorts. He reminds us that we live in an “increasingly interconnected world” and implores us to “remember that what happens to poor people is never divorced from the actions of the powerful” (158). As I read this passage, I found myself thinking about the implications of such a union between “the poor” and “the powerful.”  I agree with Farmer’s suggestion that the economic and social structures that exist within countries and between them often institutionalize inequality, but I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the significance of this connection. As residents of a first world country and participants in its democracy and economy, what are our responsibilities to poverty stricken people of other nations and our own? How do we effectively target structures, instead of merely attempting to treat the symptoms caused by these structures? Farmer suggests that we begin by  “think[ing] locally and globally and act[ing] in response to both levels of analysis,” but somehow this left me feeling more overwhelmed… Farmer is wise to suggest that structures should be a principal target in the quest to eradicate poverty and the health inequities that accompany it. He implicates his readers in the preservation of such structures, but the excerpt ends just short of him suggesting tangible ways for us to help shift these structures. I agree with Farmer that serious structural change needs to occur to address the root causes of extreme poverty, but I have a hard time envisioning the course of events that would lead to the type of change that could lead to a meaningful reduction in poverty. I appreciate the value of thinking “globally and locally,” but I would be curious to hear Farmer’s thoughts on how his readers can transform these thoughts into action. 


On page 156, Farmer writes that much reform works “within existing social relationships and the basic structuring of society, which rules out greater participation by all.” This quote struck me as particularly relevant to issues of gender and sexuality. I’m taking a class at Penn called “Law and Social Policy on Sexuality and Reproduction.” One of the topics we’ve covered this semester was Rape and Sexual Assault from a legal perspective.  We were visited by Chris Mallios, a former Defense Attorney for Philadelphia who worked as a prosecutor on many cases of rape or sexual assault. It was interesting to hear him talk about the structural hurdles that make it difficult for survivors of rape or sexual assault to build a strong legal case or have their case investigated at all (if they decide to take legal action). The most striking of these hurdles being the hesitance of police officers to provide prompt and professional assistance to those reporting such crimes, or dismissal of cases by police officers who have a certain perception of what a rape case looks like. Mallios no longer works as a DA, and is now an Attorney Advisor for AEquitas: The Prosecutor’s Resource on Violence Against Women. At AEquitas, Mallios works to train prosecutors and I believe police across this country and in several other countries, on ways to better respond to and prosecute cases of sexual violence. The work of this organization strikes me as an interesting example of shifting “the basic structuring of society” from within. It strikes me that in some situations it may be necessary to shift societal structures from within as well as questioning their foundations from a more removed perspective. In any case, the work done by AEquitas is pretty fascinating for anyone who is interested in challenges facing successful legal prosecution of sexual violence. Its interesting to look through the trainings conducted by the organization and think about how it is working to change the way these crimes are dealt with from a legal perspective, but I think Farmer would argue (and I would agree), that this work treats the symptoms of greater problems and while of incredible value to those seeking legal action in response to such crimes, is not enough to change the society these acts occur in.


As Farmer points out, looking to address the root of social problems such as poverty does not mean that we stop treating the symptoms of such problems. The sick still need access to medical remedies even if the institutional causes of health disparities linger. Similarly, the work done by organizations like AEquitas strives to create a more capable, respectful, and responsive legal system for survivors of crime, but other types of activism surrounding these issues are necessary to fundamentally shift the nature of the societies that allow these crimes to occur.


If anyone is interested here is the link to AEquitas: