Medical, Racist, and Colonial Constructions of Power in Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Academic Article


  • This essay looks at the values attributed or denied to "culture" (medical culture, history, Southeast Asian refugees, Asian American cultural citizenship) in the care surrounding a Hmong child diagnosed with spirit loss, according to Hmong interpretation, or epilepsy, as defined by Western medicine. In my reading of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, medical, colonial, and authorial knowledge often converge in devastating ways, linking the seemingly disparate discourses of war, refugee medicine, and the model minority through colonial representations. I also look at the book's lacuna in its investigation of cultural collisions, finding that its approaches to reporting the medical-cultural conflict from a seemingly neutral position-one balancing the reported views of the epileptic child's parents and the views of her medical practitioners-often reinscribe the Hmong subjects into the very colonial parameters from which the book attempts to extract them.
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    Publication Date

  • 2005
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