Tell Me Why My Children Died

Rabies, Indigenous Knowledge, and Communicative Justice

Tell Me Why My Children Died

Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography

More about this series

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 52 illustrations Published: May 2016

Anthropology > Medical Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Medicine and Health > Global Health

Tell Me Why My Children Died tells the gripping story of indigenous leaders' efforts to identify a strange disease that killed thirty-two children and six young adults in a Venezuelan rain forest between 2007 and 2008. In this pathbreaking book, Charles L. Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs relay the nightmarish and difficult experiences of doctors, patients, parents, local leaders, healers, and epidemiologists; detail how journalists first created a smoke screen, then projected the epidemic worldwide; discuss the Chávez government's hesitant and sometimes ambivalent reactions; and narrate the eventual diagnosis of bat-transmitted rabies. The book provides a new framework for analyzing how the uneven distribution of rights to produce and circulate knowledge about health are wedded at the hip with health inequities. By recounting residents' quest to learn why their children died and documenting their creative approaches to democratizing health, the authors open up new ways to address some of global health's most intractable problems. 


"Although these are theory-rich, complicated concepts, the authors write in a style that is both approachable and easy to follow. Highly recommended." — S. B. Opperman, Choice

"Briggs and Mantini-Briggs do more than shed light on a tragedy—they give voice to the grieving parents and offer examples of innovative ways to combat health disparities around the world, such as examining the 'relational division of the labor of producing and circulating health knowledge.'” — Tracy Gnadinger, Health Affairs

"This is an emotionally and analytically profound book that crosses disciplinary boundaries to fill gaps in scientific inquiry. Among the greatest contributions of the book, and in line with the authors’ interest to be attentive to all forms of communication and many different perspectives, is the use of various theoretical frameworks from different disciplinary and geographical backgrounds." — Carolina Quesada, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research

"Tell Me Why My Children Died . . . reads by turns like a thriller, a dense theoretical treatise, a work of photo documentary and a call to arms. That it succeeds on all of these fronts is a testament as much to the authors’ rigorous scholarship as it is to their conviction that engagement must take the form of social action in addition to thick description." — Jessica Jerome, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“There are no easy explanations in this book, but it serves a valuable role by reminding us that lofty ideological claims and even passionate practical commitment are, in themselves, insufficient for eradicating deep structural inequalities, the real solutions to which can sometimes only be found among the people themselves.” — Eugene Carey, Latin American Review of Books

"Briggs and Mantini-Briggs’s book is an overall worthy project, and contributes to the very important work of integrating the analysis of a health crisis in terms of communicative privilege." — Jill Inderstrodt-Stephens and Amanda Veile, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

"It is in this combination of ambitious scope and gut-wrenching intimacy that Tell Me Why My Children Died really shines. This book is a model not just for anthropologists interested in epidemics (Ebola and Zika were frequently on my mind while I was reading, and they are occasionally invoked in the text), but, just as importantly, for readers interested in a first-hand account of the messy, frustrating and ambivalent work of communicating calls for justice." — Alex Nading, Journal of Latin American Studies

"This ethnography will undoubtedly be embraced by scholars and graduate students in the fields of medical and linguistic anthropology, Latin American Studies and Indigenous Studies. Nevertheless, in my opinion, a book like this is most needed to encourage critical approaches to communication, global health and public health disciplines, as well as engaging lower level students in sophisticated discussions around contemporary American societies." — Nicole S. Berry, Bulletin of Latin American Research

"As these authors were writing, Ebola exploded, and a popular literature sprang up in the wake of the outbreak. Too often those books and articles focused on animals and things, avoiding poverty, colonization, and global inequities. The books reviewed here give a powerful corrective: ill-health emerges not just from some distant frontier between people and a wild living world but from the stories we tell ourselves and others tell about us." — Ian Read, Latin American Perspectives

"The book will be useful and provocative for researchers, students, and faculties in the social sciences, medicine, and science and technology studies. I strongly recommend it." — Linda M. Whiteford, Ethnohistory

“Briggs and Mantini-Briggs provide a balanced approach to the concerns of structure and policy but also highlight the agency of individuals and communities in resisting these structures with an on-the-ground working understanding of the dynamics of medical pluralism and health seeking for Warao families with differential access to multiple health resources.” — Kathleen Musante, Latin American Research Review

"A shocking testimony of a reality that challenges us. Again Charles L. Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs give us irrefutable evidence of the greatest contradiction of the market society: the opulence of a few and misery for the many. Their account of the distressing but institutionally invisible reproduction of an avoidable epidemic confirms the revealing power of critical ethnography and places on the table of public health the role that communication plays in the social determination of health."  — Jaime Breilh, Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, Sede Ecuador

"Tell Me Why My Children Died is a product of intrepid inquiry, original analytical work, and, above all, deep respect and care for the most vulnerable in the Lower Delta. This book is a pathbreaking contribution to the anthropology of expert knowledge and health inequality, and a powerfully crafted field guide for a global health humanities."  — João Biehl, author of Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles L. Briggs is Alan Dundes Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, and the author or coauthor of ten books. 
Clara Mantini-Briggs, a Venezuelan public health physician, was the National Coordinator of the Dengue Fever Program in Venezuela's Ministry of Health and is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. They are coauthors of Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations  ix

Prologue  xiii

Preface  xvii

Introduction  1

Part I.

1. Reliving the Epidemic: Parents' Perspectives  29

2. When Caregivers Fail: Doctors, Nurses, and Healers Facing an Intractable Disease  76

3. Explaining the Inexplicable in Mukoboina: Epidemiologists, Documents, and the Dialogue That Failed  109

4. Heroes, Bureaucrats, and Millenarian Wisdom: Journalists Cover an Epidemic Conflict  127

Part II.

5. Narratives, Communicative Monopolies, and Acute Health Inequities  159

6. Knowledge Production and Circulation  179

7. Laments, Psychoanalysis, and the Work of Mourning  205

8. Biomediatization: Health/Communicative Inequities and Health News  225

9. Toward Health/Communicative Equities and Justice  245

Conclusion  260

Acknowledgments  275

Notes  279

References  287

Index  303
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Co-Winner of the 2017 New Millennium Book Award, presented by the Society for Medical Anthropology section of the American Anthropological Association

Winner of the Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology, presented by the American Anthropological Association.

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6124-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6105-3
Publicity material