Epidemiological rage: Population, biography, and state responsibility in trans- health activism

Soc Sci Med. 2020 Jan 20:247:112808. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.112808. Online ahead of print.


This article examines how social movements reconceptualized trans-health in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Looking ethnographically to medical and activist practice, the article analyzes "epidemiological biographies", or activist-produced community-based studies blending quantitative and narrative data. It draws on population health, feminist science studies, transgender studies, and social theory to discuss the circulation and implications of these publications. Specifically, it describes how epidemiological biographies disputed health behavioral models by defining state violence and criminalization as primary conditions endangering health and life expectancy among travestis and trans-people. The article analyzes how activist researchers made state violence legible through logics of population health, even as the concept of "population" also emerged from techniques of state control. In contrast with models that place individual behavior at the locus of health interventions, activists instead advanced interventions that contested state securitization and shifted resource distribution. Epidemiological biographies had a considerable effect on national trans-health politics, providing an evidentiary basis for several regulatory shifts. These studies emerged in part through collective political action that reformulated dominant modes of statistical aggregation. This statistical turn-which I call "statistical collectivization"-produced contradictory effects. At one level, it obscured differential conditions of criminalization and violence. At another, it directed attention to the markedly racialized, sexualized, classed, and gendered forms of subjugation that materialize in landscapes of trans-health, and prioritized materially distributive regulation over and above civil protections. Through these contradictory actions, social movements reformulated dominant notions of health by challenging state securitization and contesting state power.

Keywords: Argentina; Epidemiology; Science & technology studies; Social movements; State violence; Statistics; Transgender health; Travesti.