The doctor's political body

Doctor–patient interactions and sociopolitical belonging in Venezuelan state clinics

by Amy Cooper

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Patients of Venezuelan state clinics ascribe meanings to doctor–patient interactions that reverberate beyond the immediacy of the clinical encounter to shape political subjectivities. They seek not just medical goods and services from clinical interactions but also expressions of recognition, respect, care, and solidarity from doctors. I argue that patients who had long resented what they saw as the Venezuelan state's broken promises to use national oil wealth to provide for its citizens now read its efforts to address sociopolitical inequalities in the bodily dispositions of its medical workers. Combining anthropological approaches to doctor–patient interactions and to medical embodiment, I show how doctors’ embodied practices can render biomedical encounters politically significant for patients, activating or foreclosing a sense of sociopolitical belonging. In doing so, I demonstrate how sociopolitical orders are constructed and challenged through the intimacies of biomedical practice.