"I'm not dog, no!": cries of resistance against cholera control campaigns

Soc Sci Med. 1996 Sep;43(6):1007-24. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(96)00083-4.


Popular reactions toward government efforts to control the recent cholera epidemic in Northeast Brazil are evaluated. Intensive ethnographic interviews and participant-observation in two urban slums (favelas), reveal a high level of resistance on the part of impoverished residents towards official cholera control interventions and mass media campaigns. "Non-compliance" with recommended regimens is described more as a revolt against accusatory attitudes and actions of the elite than as an outright rejection of care by the poor. "Hidden transcripts" about "The Dog's Disease," as cholera is popularly called, voices a history of social and economic inequity and domination in Northeast Brazil. Here, cholera is encumbered by the trappings of metaphor. Two lurid cultural stereotypes, pessoa imunda (filthy, dirty person) and vira lata (stray mutt dog) are used, it is believed, to equate the poor with cholera. The morally disgracing and disempowering imagery of cholera is used to blame and punish the poor and to collectively taint and separate their communities from wealthy neighborhoods. The authors argue that metaphoric trappings have tragic consequences: they deform the experience of having cholera and inhibit the sick and dying from seeking treatment early enough. Controlling cholera requires eliminating "blaming the victim" rhetoric while attacking the social roots of cholera: poverty, low earning power, female illiteracy, sexism, lack of basic sanitation and clean water supplies, medical hegemony, etc. For health interventions to be effective, it is necessary to take into account people's "hidden transcripts" when designing action programs.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Brazil
  • Child
  • Cholera / ethnology*
  • Cholera / prevention & control*
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Poverty*
  • Prejudice*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Symbolism
  • Urban Health