Cesar Abadia-Barrero

Associate Professor DMSc. Harvard, 2003


César E. Abadía-Barrero received his degree in dentistry from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (1992) and finished his doctoral studies in medical anthropology at Harvard University (2003). His main interest is integrating different critical perspectives in the study and transformation of health inequalities. His book I Have AIDS but I am Happy: Children’s Subjectivities, AIDS, and Social Responses in Brazil (2011) unveiled the social paradoxes that result when state and non-governmental sectors partner to effectively provide care for specific population groups and alter, albeit partially, complex historical processes related to social inequalities. Indeed, the Brazilian approach to combat the AIDS epidemic became a world example in the way in which it created specialized shelter institutions for children abandoned, orphan, or infected with HIV and offered access to state-of-the-art medical care to all Brazilians living with HIV, which demanded the state to confront the for-profit interest of transnational pharmaceutical companies. Diseases of Poverty-Privileged Responses and Children living with HIV are better off than children who are only “at risk” of becoming infected, are two of the paradoxes explored in-depth in the book. These paradoxes, interwoven with detailed ethnographic material with children and adults in everyday life activities at shelters, neighborhood, schools, trips and health care facilities, speak to the ways in which children affected by the epidemic grow up confronting a series of life options, family configurations and institutional programs.

Since 2005, he has conducted activist and collaborative research about the impacts of the health care reform in Colombia, country that underwent the most aggressive neoliberal/market-based reform in the world. Within this context, he has studied the effectiveness of judicial and legal mechanisms for the protection of the constitutional right to health care. In addition, he has researched how for-profit interests transform access, continuity, and quality of care, and alter clinical, moral, and judicial understandings of what health care and the right to health should encompass.

His forthcoming book, Health in Ruins: The Capitalist Destruction of Medical Care (Duke University Press), builds on over ten years of collaborative ethnographic research conducted with patients, workers, and professors at the Instituto Materno Infantil (IMI), Colombia’s oldest maternal-child health center and university hospital and an icon of modern medicine throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The book provides multiple examples of how the country’s market-based health care reform was experienced and resisted at the hospital and also of how neoliberal policies transformed the practice of medicine in Colombia. By digging into the hospital’s history, this ethnographic research clarifies that even though public university hospitals and public medical education never received adequate state funding, they were central to the fragmented and partial welfare state project of the mid-twentieth century. With the advent of neoliberal health care reforms, not only were projects with a public orientation forced to adopt for-profit principles, but they were pushed to bankruptcy due to unfavorable competition, corruption and a stubbornness to maintain high-standards of medical care. Thus, the ethnography explores powerful violent mechanisms by which the new for-profit structure of the system, based on the intermediation of insurance companies and supported by the state, destroyed the hospital and its workers, with transcendental implications for the future of health and medical education.

He is starting two interdisciplinary research projects. The project “From Environmental Degradation to Buen Vivir: Using Participatory Action Research to promote community auto sustainability while protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services” investigates the environmental, cultural, economic, and political aspects of a transitional designin post-peace accord Colombia, specifically in the region of Caquetá.

 Phase I of the project “Dysregulated Children: Toxicity, Infections, and Immunity in Emerging Childhood Epidemics” inquires about the experiences of children and families affected by Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS), as well as the responses from both schools and health care providers to the children’s health and developmental challenges.

Area Focus

Latin America


Courses in Medical Anthropology. Power, illness and healing. Social Science Theory. Marxist Anthropology. Social Movements. Health and Human Rights. Health Care Systems. Legal and moral issues in health. Participatory and activist oriented research. Latin America.

Cultural Anthropology Courses
ANTH3120. Anthropology of Capitalism
ANTH 3327/HRTS 3327/ LLAS 3327 Power and Health in Latin America and the Caribbean
ANTH3021/LLAS3021. Contemporary Latin America
ANTH3326/HRTS3326. Global Health and Human Rights
ANTH5305. Life in Capitalism: Destruction, Profits
ANTH5305. The Value of Life in Global Markets

Medical Anthropology Courses
ANTH3098/HRTS3298/LLAS3998. Power and the Right to Health in Latin America
ANTH3326/HRTS3326. Global Health & Human Rights
ANTH5305. The Value of Life in Global Markets

Best Student Papers

Selected Publications

To download publications, visit Research Gate.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Bugbee, M. Primary Health Care for Universal Health Coverage? Contributions for a Critical Anthropological Agenda, 2019. Medical Anthropology. Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, doi: 10.1080/01459740.2019.1620744.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Ardila Sierra, A. 2019. The Right to Health under Capitalism: Threats, Confrontations and Possibilities. In Parker, R and García, J. (Eds.) Routledge Handbook on the Politics of Global Health. Routledge, Abingdon, UK. pp. 24-32

Martínez-Parra A., Pinilla Alfonso, MY., and Abadía-Barrero, C. Sociocultural dynamics that influence Chagas disease health care in Colombia.2019.Social Science and Medicine215: 142-150.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.09.012

Abadía-Barrero, C. Ruiz Sanchez, H. and Pinilla Alfonso M. 2018. Etnografía como acción política: articulación del compromiso antropológico a estrategias contra hegemónicas. [Etnography as political action: articulation of the anthropological commitment to counter-hegemonic strategies.] In Guber, R. Eckert, C. Jimeno, M. and Krotz, E. (Eds.) Trabajo de Campo en América Latina. Experiencias Antropológicas Regionales en Etnografía. [Fieldwork in Latin America. Regional anthropological experiences in ethnography.] Editorial SB, Buenos Aires, pp. 438-455.

Abadía-Barrero, C. Kangaroo Mother Care in Colombia: A Subaltern Health Innovation against For-profit Biomedicine. 2018. Medical Anthropology Quarterly.32(3): 384-403. doi: 10.1111/maq.12430

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Ruíz, C. Enfrentando al Neoliberalismo en Colombia: Arte y Colaboración en un Hospital en Ruinas. [Confronting Neoliberalism in Colombia: Art and Collaboration in a Hospital in Ruins.] 2018. Etnográfica. 22(3): 575-603.

Martinez-Parra, A.Abadía-Barrero, C.Murata, C. Méndez-Ramírez, I and Méndez Gómez-Humaran, I. Social Class for Collective Health Research: A Conceptual and Empirical Challenge,2019. Global Public Health,doi: 10.1080/17441692.2018.1541098.

Abadía-Barrero C. and Martínez A. Care and Consumption: A Latin American Social Medicine’s Conceptual Framework to Comprehend Oral Health Inequalities. 2017. Global Public Health. 12(10): 1228-1241. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2016.1171377

Buitrago Echeverry, MT., Abadía-Barrero, CE., and Granja Palacios, C. Work-related illness, work-related accidents, and lack of social security in Colombia. 2017. Social Science and Medicine. 187: 118-125. doi. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.06.030

Willen, S. Knipper, M. Abadía-Barrero, C. and Davidovitch, N. Syndemic vulnerability and the right to health. 2017. The Lancet. 389: 964-977. doi. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30261-1

Abadía-Barrero, C. The Transformation of the Value of Life: Dispossession as Torture. 2015. Medical Anthropology. Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness. 34(5): 389-406. doi:10.1080/01459740.2015.1048859.

Abadía-Barrero, C. Neoliberal Justice and the Transformation of the Moral: The Privatization of the Right to Health Care in Colombia. 2015. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 30(1): 62-79. doi: 10.1111/maq.12161

Horton, S. Abadía-Barrero, C. Mulligan, J. and Thompson J. Critical Anthropology of Global Health ‘Takes a Stand’ Statement: A Critical Medical Anthropological Approach to the US’ Affordable Care Act. 2014. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 28(1): 1-22. doi: 10.1111maq.12065

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Melo Moreno, M. Repensar la Salud desde una Academia Critica y Comprometida. Vida, Acumulación y Emancipación. [Rethinking Health from a Committed and Critical Academia. Life, Accumulation and Emancipation] 2014. Revista Gerencia y Políticas en Salud. 13(17): 41-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.rgyps13-27.rsda

Abadía-Barrero, C. Shaw Crane Emma and Ruíz, C. Defending the Right to Health in Colombia. 2012. NACLA Report on the Americas. Summer 2012 45(2): 70-73

Quevedo-Gómez, M.C. Krumeich, A. Abadía-Barrero, C. Pastrana-Salcedo, E.M.; Van den Borne, H.W. Machismo, public health and sexuality-related stigma: 2012. Culture, Health and Sexuality. 14(2): 223-235.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Oviedo, D. Bureaucratic Itineraries. A proposal for understanding Managed-Care Health Care System from the Colombian citizen’s perspectives. 2009. Social Science & Medicine. 68(6): 1153-1160.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Oviedo, D. Intersubjetividades Estructuradas: La Salud en Colombia como Dilema Epistemológico y Político para las Ciencias Sociales. [Structured Intersubjectivities. Health as a Social Sciences Political and Epistemological Dilemma] 2008. Universitas Humanística. 66. Julio-Diciembre, pp. 57-82.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and LaRusso M. The Disclosure Model versus a Developmental Illness Experience Model for Children and Adolescents Living with HIV/AIDS in São Paulo, Brazil. 2006. AIDS Patient Care and STDs. 20(1): 36-43

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Castro A. Experiences of Stigma and Access to HAART in Children and Adolescents Living with HIV/AIDS in Brazil. 2006. Social Science & Medicine. 62(5): 1219-1228

Cesar Abadia
Contact Information
Phone+1 860 486 2137
Office LocationBH 436