American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
In Latin America, Argentina has long been examined as a context where corruption permeates all sectors and takes on all political flavors (Goldstein 2012, 2018). Especially in the capital of Buenos Aires, corruption and bribery are simultaneously portrayed as newsworthy and unremarkable. In a system understood as “set up for impunity and corruption” (Alconada Mon 2018), public hospitals are places where power differentials, inequality, and extreme budget cuts provide a fertile ground for a variety of quasi-legal and illegal practices. In this paper, I explore how broader Argentine attitudes towards corruption operate and are approached in hospital life by asking how corrupt subjectivities are differently embodied and enacted by medical professionals, patients, and families. Drawing from extended fieldwork in public hospitals in metropolitan Buenos Aires, I focus on the perception of “always being potentially corruptible in Argentina,” in the words of a physician. I argue that the difference between “corruptible” and “corrupt” marks different stances towards the “corrosion of character,” both moral and national (Sennet 1999). From discussions about billing practices to procurement of pharmaceuticals and quotidian exchanges between doctors and families, I show how corruption is perceived as a form of moral contagion to which all – medical staff, administrators, and patients – feel vulnerable. How is corruption different from and implicated in daily transactions required to perform and receive care? I suggest that corruptibility is a useful analytic that allows to answer this question and therefore investigate the many "hospital publics" of corruption.