Nerves as embodied metaphor in the Canada/Mexico seasonal agricultural workers program

Med Anthropol. Oct-Dec 2008;27(4):383-404. doi: 10.1080/01459740802427729.


This article examines nerves among participants in the Canada/Mexico Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (C/MSAWP). Based on in-depth interviews with 30 Mexican farm workers in southwestern Ontario, we demonstrate that nerves embodies the distress of economic need, relative powerlessness, and the contradictions inherent in the C/MSAWP that result in various life's lesions. We also explore their use of the nerves idiom as an embodied metaphor for their awareness of the breakdown in self/society relations and, in certain cases, of the lack of control over even themselves. This article contributes to that body of literature that locates nerves at the "normal" end of the "normal/abnormal" continuum of popular illness categories because, despite the similarities in symptoms of nerves among Mexican farm workers and those of anxiety and/or mood disorders, medicalization has not occurred. If nerves has not been medicalized among Mexican farm workers, neither has it given rise to resistance to their relative powerlessness as migrant farm workers. Nonetheless, nerves does serve as an effective vehicle for expressing their distress within the context of the C/MSAWP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / ethnology*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / psychology*
  • Agriculture
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Language
  • Male
  • Mexico / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Power, Psychological
  • Seasons
  • Social Environment
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology*
  • Workplace / psychology
  • Young Adult