If Truth Be Told: The Politics of Public Ethnography
Didier Fassin is James Wolfensohn Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, a Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the author and editor of many books, most recently, Prison Worlds: An Ethnography of the Carceral Condition.
The objects arousing emotional responses vary across countries, as João Biehl realized when he carried out his collective project on the judicialization of health in Brazil. While the country was praised worldwide for its management of the HIV epidemic, the multiplication of lawsuits by patients suffering from a wide range of health conditions and unable to access treatment amid precarious infrastructures raised concerns among public authorities. By contesting, on the basis of their empirical data, the official discourse that discredited those who used this alternate path to access medicines, Biehl uncovered the failure of the state to fulfill its obligations and the falsehood of its arguments against those who tried to unveil it. In response he was confronted with the criticisms of his Brazilian collaborators regarding the validity of his findings and the reliability of his method.