SUGAR MACHINE: Medical Technologies and Plantation Legacies in the Caribbean Diabetes Epidemic


Giddings House 212, Department of Anthropology

Amy Moran-Thomas, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

By 2010, diabetes had become the leading cause of death in the Central American country of Belize.  Amid eerie injuries, changing bodies, amputated limbs, and untimely deaths, many people across the Caribbean and Central America simply call the affliction “sugar” — language that trails many layered histories. “Sugar machine” was what one woman called her broken glucose meter, for which she could no longer afford the device’s expensive test strips.  “Sugar machine” was also what she called the rusted wheels and abandoned machinery of a nearby colonial sugar plantation.  Thinking with the terms people themselves commonly used to describe living with diabetic sugar, and investigating them as a form of “implicit memory” (Michel-Rolph Trouillot), this talk explores the patterned injuries that continue to compound in a new era of unequal sugar economies and industrial profit engines.

Amy Moran-Thomas is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT, interested in questions of environmental change and ethnographic approaches to science, technology, and medicine.  Her first book, Traveling with Sugar: Chronicles of a Global Epidemic, is forthcoming from the University of California Press in November 2019.