I was thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute a piece to Somatosphere’s series, The Ethnographic Case, edited by Drs. Emily Yates-Doerr and Christine Labuski. I love that site, the series editors were amazing to work with, and this exercise gave me a chance to think and write through a particular encounter that has haunted me since my early fieldwork in Central America.

In my piece, I revisit my single visit to one of the most abject spaces I have ever seen: a large “shelter” for people with disabilities in an anonymous Latin American city. I saw a little boy in a cage. Children far too big crammed into metal cots and speedily fed formula in bottles. Adults in straightjackets. And, in the case described in my recent piece, I met Maria, a blind indigenous woman who was abandoned as a child and ended up at the shelter, where she had been forced to live in isolation in a shed for years.

The spaces and scenes stuck with me. They were shocking, to be sure, but in thinking through them in terms of later fieldwork in the U.S. and elsewhere I realized that they weren’t the outliers – the isolated cases – I had originally assumed. They could not be written off so quickly.

Please take a few moments to read my piece, “The Enclosed Space.”


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