Structural vulnerability and health: Latino migrant laborers in the United States

Med Anthropol. 2011 Jul;30(4):339-62. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2011.576725.


Latino immigrants in the United States constitute a paradigmatic case of a population group subject to structural violence. Their subordinated location in the global economy and their culturally depreciated status in the United States are exacerbated by legal persecution. Medical Anthropology, Volume 30, Numbers 4 and 5, include a series of ethnographic analyses of the processes that render undocumented Latino immigrants structurally vulnerable to ill health. We hope to extend the social science concept of "structural vulnerability" to make it a useful concept for health care. Defined as a positionality that imposes physical/emotional suffering on specific population groups and individuals in patterned ways, structural vulnerability is a product of class-based economic exploitation and cultural, gender/sexual, and racialized discrimination, as well as complementary processes of depreciated subjectivity formation. A good-enough medicalized recognition of the condition of structural vulnerability offers a tool for developing practical therapeutic resources. It also facilitates political alternatives to the punitive neoliberal policies and discourses of individual unworthiness that have become increasingly dominant in the United States since the 1980s.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Hispanic or Latino*
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Social Problems / ethnology*
  • Transients and Migrants*
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations*