Suffering from Water: Social Origins of Bodily Distress in a Mexican Community


This article is an ethnographic analysis of what it means to “suffer from water.” Using a critical medical anthropology approach, the study examines how residents living in a foothill community of the Valley of Mexico experience bodily distress associated with water scarcity. Data for the study come from participant-observation of domestic water use and community drinking water management as well as interviews with local civil and religious officials who monitor the water distribution system. While the community discourse on suffering from water does not correspond to biomedical categories of illness, it does speak to the physical and emotional hardships and the social conditions that limit residents’ access to an adequate supply of domestic water. By taking a broad view of water-related suffering, the study reveals some of the efforts made by people to address what they consider to be the social origins of their bodily distress.

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