UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Contradictions and exclusions : an ethnographic study of African im/migrants' right to health in Italy Oliverio-Lauderdale, Daniela


This thesis examines the complex and “messy” nature of the right to health and its intersections with race, gender, and migration in the Italian context. The laws in Italy purportedly outline a framework that includes “illegal” im/migrants in the healthcare system. The diverse ways in which the “right to health” have been understood theoretically are based on a commitment to universal and legal rights or the right to health from a moral and humanitarian perspective. Drawing on participant observation in medical clinics, and semi-structured formal and informal interviews with medical staff, practitioners and patients in two cities of Italy, this thesis provides insights into “the right to health” in theory and in practice. Two key concepts in the study of the right to health are moral economies and biolegitimacy. On the basis of my research I argue that currently, the moral economy of health in Italy regarding “illegal” im/migrants is one of reluctant compassion. While im/migrants’ social legitimacy stems from their biological state, or biolegitimacy, within the setting of the clinics it does not necessarily extend further. In Italy, “illegal” im/migrants enjoy legitimacy via their biolegitimacy, but they are yet to be fully accepted into the social and moral community. While “illegal” im/migrants are recognized as having a right to health they are simultaneously excluded politically, economically, and discursively from the social community. Even in the “humanitarian” version of healthcare in Italy which provides a legal framework where, in principal, everyone can access healthcare, there is still a lack of comprehensive treatment (cura totale). Ultimately, this thesis demonstrates the ways in which the right to health in Italy is complex, messy and often contradictory with respect to other aspects of social life even in a context where there is a legal framework outlining a provision of healthcare for all. Additional research is necessary to understand how the right to health is interpreted in other regions of Italy and particularly in detention centers, such as Lampedusa, which have received a lot of media attention recently for their treatment of African detainees and im/migrants.

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