Neoliberal Reform and Health Dilemmas: Social Hierarchy and Therapeutic Decision Making in Senegal


In this article, I trace the links among neoliberalism, regional ecological decline, and the dynamics of therapeutic processes in rural Senegal. By focusing on illness management in a small rural community, the article explores how economic reform is mediated by existing social structures, and how household social organization in turn influences therapeutic decision making. The illness episodes relayed here demonstrate how the acute economic and social crisis facing the Ganjool region becomes written on the bodies of young men, and how the fault lines of gender and generation shape illness experiences. These narratives also illuminate the tremendous discrepancy between the lived realities of sickness and death, and the idealized models of health participation and empowerment envisioned by the state. Rather than “neoliberal subjects” who behave as rational economic actors, men and women coping with illness are social beings embedded in fields of power characterized by highly stratified household social relations.