Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Romance Languages

First Advisor

Roman de la Campa


This research explores how representations of illness —prevalent in 19th century naturalist literature—have returned with force in the current era. I posit that this occurs because of a new political and economic situation —neoliberalism— that alternately controls bodies and abandons them. As a result of the extreme precariousness created by neoliberal policies, mainly austerity and privatization, bodies are labeled and controlled by the State power and its institutions (especially scientific and medical ones), or individuals in doubtful conditions that assume dominant roles, which means that they replicate behaviors associated and learned from figures related to the State apparatus. Biopolitical approach provides a useful theoretical frame to analyze how bodies are exposed to economic processes that determined if they are worth to live or deserve to die.

This study is a contribution to the field because it builds on work that has been done in 19th century studies on illness in naturalist literature, but in the contemporary period with a different conceptual concern: biopolitics under neoliberalism. If scholars found that naturalist literature presented illness as a political/social label coined in order to discriminate individuals that were not desirable to be part of the new independent nations, now control over the bodies is focused in economic values such as productivity, labor power and competition. Since Latin American individuals are selected, cataloged and discriminated according to race, gender, social class, political militancy and sexual orientation, this approach dialogues with postcolonial, gender and queer studies, national imaginary of modernity, resistant movement efforts, and medical/scientific control power driven by the State and markets, which are called to decide if these bodies have any utility for the productive machinery. This study also analyses the possibility of liberation through the denial of medical treatment or State support, the building of autonomous communities that operate outside the State apparatus, official authorities or strong emancipatory figures, and the elimination negative discourses created to allow the discrimination and/or elimination of undesirable bodies. Contemporary Latin American literature organizes itself around illness a precariousness to, paradoxically perhaps, imagine the deaths of subjects, but also the birth of new collectivities.