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Multi-sensorial perceptions of risk: the aesthetics behind (muco)cutaneous leishmaniasis-related stigma in Ecuador


Previous research on the stigma associated with cutaneous leishmaniasis, a vector-transmitted parasitic disease, focuses on aesthetic appearance affectation as the leading cause of stigmatisation. However, Indigenous populations in the hinterland of Amazonian Ecuador trigger stigma expressions by recognising (muco)cutaneous leishmaniasis, primarily through atypical smell, followed by the odd voice sound, appearance and taste. This empirical way of recognising symptoms relies on embodied forms of identifying a disease, contrasting the Western supremacy of visuality and demanding to be understood via multi-sensorial anthropology. Through ethnographic research and data retrieved from eighty-three semistructured interviews and fifteen focus groups in seven Ecuadorian ethnic groups – including six Indigenous groups in the Amazon region – this paper analyses how the sensorium is a health thermometer. Findings reveal that differentiated cultural responses to a sense of peril, contagion and social (self)rejection, understood as stigma expressions, are linked to the holistic approach to health (or well-being) shared by Indigenous populations. In forest societies, well-being is explained through successful (non-)human relationships, and disease permeates through bodies that lack balanced relations.

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Journal Article
Vargas Roman VC
Bezemer J
Calvopiña M
Ortega F
Salazar NB
Schallig HDFH
de Vries HJC