To see that which cannot be seen: Ontological differences and public health policies in Southern Chile

In this article, I explore different visual practices performed by Pehuenche Indigenous healers and State public health professionals in southern Chile. While non-Indigenous health workers seek to make ‘traditional’ Pehuenche healing visible within or alongside their own ‘modern’ practices, Pehuenche people are concerned with making visible the evil spirits whose ‘eating’ of persons produces illness. Focusing in particular on different healing practices triggered by the existence of Pehuenche spiritual illnesses that are ‘seen’ by both Indigenous healers and State professionals, this paper discusses how different ontologies ground differences between the indigenous healers and what they ‘see’; as well as how a broader and substantive binary between Pehuenche and non Pehuenche realities goes above and beyond these multiplicities. By exploring and discussing the endurance of Pehuenche cosmo-political relations in a world inhabited by visible and invisible eaters, I hope to create awareness about how a failure to recognize these different realities limits current multicultural policies in Southern Chile, and Indigenous health policies more broadly. At a more theoretical level, the following ethnographic account sheds light on unresolved tensions between the ways ontological difference has been conceptualized within the so-called ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology and within the field of Science and Technologies Studies (STS).

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