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We Have No Microbes Here book jacket View Table of Contents and Introductory Material

We Have No Microbes Here

Healing Practices in a Turkish Black Sea Village

by Sylvia Wing Önder

2007 $40.00 330 pp paper ISBN: 978-0-89089-573-3 LCCN 2005012970

Tags: Anthropology, Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, Medical Anthropology, Medical Anthropology

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There is a growing body of literature about Muslim women concerned with their activities in the public sphere and the aspirations held by and for them in regard to political and economic participation. Interest in Muslim women’s private lives has long been tainted by the fanciful stereotypes of a mysterious, opulent, and sensual “world of the harem” from the days of voyeuristic Western travel logs. The rural Muslim woman, if noticed at all, has generally been portrayed as the most unfortunate of creatures, requiring the interventions of nationalists, feminists, development experts, human rights activists, and civil society organizations.

We Have No Microbes Here examines rural Muslim women’s lives starting with the family sphere, where women hold the primary responsibility for health care, providing diagnosis and advice, first aid, traditional remedies, and concerned attention. With marriage and motherhood, women begin to acquire the social status and respect which will shape their lives. Social networks between neighbors and relatives, managed primarily among women, ensure widening circles of health advice and resources if problems cannot be dealt with within the immediate family. Women encounter new realms of experience as they pursue health care treatment for family members through state-run health clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices, and are often faced with prejudice because of their poverty and traditional concepts about the meaning of health and illness.

This patient-centered ethnography reveals the community’s construction of and dependence on the caring of mothers, wives, daughters, and daughters-in-law, showing how Muslim practice and Islamic revivalism; tradition and modernity; global, national and regional identity; and gender shape local concepts of health and illness. Examining traditional metaphors used to describe the body and its suffering, this study situates a Turkish Black Sea village community in expanding networks of labor migration and medical technologies as well as within international discourses on science and religion.

This book is part of the Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh.

“This book gives a vibrant, enthusiastic and engaging account of the way of life shared by the Turkish villages on the coast of the Black Sea. Written in a personal style, it is well furnished with anecdotes, references and case studies by various anthropologists. The author's insertion into the narrative and her exchanges with the locals provides a confident account that speaks to the richness of the book. This contrasts with other ethnographies, where the author's only link to the subject is through blood and not direct contact… In conclusion, this book offers a tasty look at the heart of rural Turkey, with engaging personal accounts, sketching a rich, colorful portrait of rural Turkish women.” — Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale (translated from French)

We Have No Microbes Here is a carefully researched, dense, and yet very readable ethnography of healing practices in Medreseönü, a village on the Black Sea coast of Turkey… We Have No Microbes Here is a very thorough work… This valuable work contributes to the recently expanding academic literature on healthcare systems, gender studies, and Turkish studies.” — Roberta Micallef, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, Boston University

“[T]he engaging and personable style makes [We Have No Microbes Here] especially suitable for undergraduate anthropology or area studies students. Önder introduces in straightforward language a number of important concepts in the anthropology of medicine: medical pluralism, the embeddedness of ethnomedical practices in everyday life and in local worldviews, gender roles in health care, medical care and kinship relationships, and the operations of power in healthcare settings. In short, this is a fine teaching book for students just venturing into medical anthropology in the Middle East.” — Kim Shively, Contemporary Islam

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