Bioethics Blogs

The Ethnographic Vision of John L. Gwaltney: The Thrice Shy, A Forgotten Gem by Lesley A. Sharp

Gwaltney, John L. 1967. The Thrice Shy: Cultural Accommodation to Blindness and Other Disasters in a Mexican Community. New York and London: Columbia University Press. 219 pp., including four appendices, references, and index.

I once had a housemate who, each year for a decade running, would set aside a week to take a break from the hyperkinetic pace of her life so she could read back through her personal journals and devote time to introspection. Unlike her, I have not made a habit of engaging in a systematic rereading of personal notes and favorite texts beyond the needs of teaching and scholarship, relying instead on memories as a means to enjoy past experiences. Revisiting The Thrice Shy: Cultural Accommodation to Blindness and Other Disasters in a Mexican Community by John Langston Gwaltney has proved an intriguing exercise in both memory work and self-reflection.

I first encountered—or, better put, discovered—The Thrice Shy in response to an assignment in a graduate course in the 1980s. Known simply as “Anthro 206,” the class was taught by Frederick Dunn as a first-year core requirement of the UC Berkeley/San Francisco joint program in medical anthropology, where I began my studies in 1983. Fred, who was a fabulous teacher, mentor, and, later, dear friend, was an MD/PhD with a passion for tropical diseases, and from the very start he sought to instill in us the importance of an integrative approach without regard for demands imposed on us elsewhere that we proclaim our allegiance to sociocultural versus biocultural studies of health, illness, and suffering.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.