Anthropological Analysis

To conduct a news analysis on the cholera outbreak in Haiti, we looked at the frequency that news sources reported about the topic.   The news sources covered similar themes and used similar language to describe the outbreak in Haiti.  Most of the news coverage  focused on the number of cholera cases reported, the fragile state of Haiti, and what aid organizations were doing to help.  In comparison, Mark Schuller’s anthropological work in Haiti critically analyzed the on-the-ground realities of Haiti during the cholera outbreak and shared the voices of Haitian aid recipients.

Analyze this chart below to see the differences and similarities between how the news sources and an anthropologist covered the initial outbreak of cholera.

The News, Anthropology, and Cholera

Anthropology provides a critical lens to evaluate humanitarian aid interventions for global health inequities.  While the news reported Haiti as being fragile, vulnerable, and unable to rebuild after catastrophe, Schuller analyzed the root causes of these stigmas and explains how the international community contributes greatly to these stereotypes and structural inequalities.   Overall, the anthropological perspective enables Haitian voices to be heard to learn the on-the-ground realities.   Anthropology is important for aid intervention because it illuminates what truly needs to be done by listening and engaging with the people who are affected most.

Discussion Questions

The questions below can be used to spark discussions on the differences and similarities represented in the news or anthropology sources in regards to the cholera outbreak.  Quotations from Schuller’s work or points of interest are included to provide an anthropological perspective.  For each question, please keep in mind the important contribution anthropology lends in understanding the dynamics of global health.

How has the media stigmatized Haiti’s culture and people?

“Despite this great solidarity, TV cameras insisted on zeroing in on looting or youth fighting over a small bag of water.  They systematically overshadowed the positive aspects: the extraordinary and wonderful spirit of inter-Haitian solidarity dominated by generosity, sharing, personal sacrifices, and the mobilization of an economy based on solidarity” (Schuller 2012: 29)

How has the media’s portrayal of Haiti as a weak and vulnerable state influenced aid intervention measures?

“The NGO’s top-down method of aid distribution has made possible all manner of abuse and coercion in the camps, given the wide difference in power between those who distribute aid and those who are meant to passively receive it” (Schuller 2010: 23)

To what extent is international aid a solution to the cholera epidemic?  To what extent does international aid contribute to the problem?

International assistance in its humanitarian form, just as in its development form, will still have an important role to play in supporting the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction.  To play this role, it must respect Haiti’s sovereignty and its self-determination in establishing a development strategy.  It should also abandon the traditional, dominant paradigms to adopt paths and innovations for an authentic, fraternal, and solidarity-based cooperation (Schuller 2012: 32)

What are the strengths and weaknesses of NGO aid interventions versus large humanitarian interventions?

    •  Critique the role of the United Nations.
        • To what extent is the UN trustworthy?  What role does trust and building relationships play in providing international aid?
        • To what extent was the UN respectful?

How are Haitians portrayed in these photos?  To what extent does the language used in the chart above for news sources match the photo representation of Haiti?

* Photos taken from The New York Times interactive “Haiti: The Shattered Year”