Challenging the Conventional Wisdom

Breast cancer and environmental health

Authored by: Mary K. Anglin

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964


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Why might a disease such as breast cancer be linked to exposure to synthetic chemicals and other environmental contaminants, including ionizing radiation? What are the arguments for and against this proposition, and whose voices have come to matter most in public debates over the prevention of breast cancer? Further, what might that set of disagreements indicate about the health of the public or the status of “the environment” in capitalist and increasingly post-industrial settings, or about activist practices in the Global North? The present chapter draws upon ethnographic literature in anthropology and related social sciences, as well as research in public health articulating an eco-social perspective, to examine the social contexts of an ongoing discussion about environmental and political factors in health. Likewise, this chapter provides an opportunity to examine anthropological insights about breast cancer, as a social phenomenon, in conjunction with the foundational assumption of eco-social perspectives on health: that humans incorporate biologically, or come to “embody,” the social and material worlds in which we live.

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