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Abstract

Background and Objectives This paper considers how the globalized discourse of genetic risk is shaped, informed and taken up in local moral worlds in Qatar. Using the theoretical and methodological approach of medical anthropology, the research explores the way in which Qataris negotiate notions of health, illness and risk: particularly genetic risk. It looks at the theories of causation that are considered for illness and disability. Methods Based on fieldwork conducted over 12 months (2012- 2013), the site of the research was a school for children with special needs. The main method was semi-structured interviews, lasting between 45 minutes and 3 hours. We conducted primary interviews with 45 families of the pupils in the school. Follow up interviews were conducted with 11 of the families. Participants were asked about their notions of health and risk and, particularly, genetic risk. In addition to the main participants, professionals involved in the creation of genetic knowledge and those at interface between the public and genetic discourse were interviewed including: social workers, geneticists, lab technicians, and those involved in medical screening programmes. Results Participants often suggested a number of theories of causation for their family member's disability. Although genetic risk was one, others were presented, often simultaneously. Many participants were uncertain about the cause of their child's condition. They mentioned numerous possibilities including, evil eye, “God's will”, environmental factors such as pollution, and MMR (in the case of autism). Evil eye, also known as “the look” (nathra) is cast by women who may be jealous or envious and who intentionally or unintentionally harm at a glance. In the author's ongoing research in Qatar participants commonly refer to evil eye as a cause of miscarriage and illness more generally. A number of participants suggested that the Gulf War and its associated chemicals had led to certain illnesses and disorders; other pointed to pollution more generally as a possible cause of illness (both specific and general). The mother's emotional and physical state whilst pregnant was often cited as a possible cause of illness or disability in the child. Indeed, if the mother was stressed or psychologically upset during her pregnancy there was the suggestion that this could have caused the condition. This resonates with the author's project on Qatari experiences of miscarriage where many women not only suggest that their emotional state can impact the pregnancy, but also that it can affect the baby in terms of temperament. Conclusions The paper engages with the anthropologist Mary Douglas' seminal work on risk. The modern preoccupation on risk is the way modern societies deal with danger- something of concern for all cultures. Risk perception is culturally shaped provides; despite its apparent neutral language risk is always moral and political. Douglas invites us to question why a society singles out some risks for attention and not others. Risk identification can be investigated to better understand a society's values and its social structures. Of central interest here is the way that Qataris are managing and negotiating risks, including genetic risk.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarc.2014.SSPP1032
2014-11-18
2020-09-21
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