This week I am reading Lois Takahashi and Michelle Magalong. Lois was one of my teachers at UCLA, which is a bit of an understatement. Whenver I am asked the question, “which teachers influenced you the most”, I always have to mention Lois. She was never really a formal mentor of mine at UCLA; she did teach my advanced planning theory courses, wonderfully. And I think she served on my committee for roughly 14 seconds. But she had a tremendous influence on me nonetheless. Always gracious, always supportive, she helped me by being a cheerleader who understood, perfectly, how hard it is to be an outsider in the academy. She also taught me how to be a cheerleader, too, in that just as everybody needs criticism to learn and grow, they also need encouragement. I never, ever would have managed to finish my PhD without Lois’ support. She’s one of the most generous, compassionate and funny people I have ever met, and she’s also brilliant.
Michelle Magalong was a student at UCLA when I was just leaving, and even though I didn’t get to know her well, my first impression of her turned out to be right. When I first encountered her, I remember thinking: this person is a leader. She’s one of those people who is attracted to planning less because they are all that motivated by the academy, but because they want to change cities and neighborhoods, and Michelle has gone on from UCLA into nonprofit management. She is one of the co-founders of My Historic Filipinotown. When I think of her work, I think of Gail Dubrow and Leonie Sandercock and the unique possibilities for constructing history based on place and ethnicity.
Takahashi, Lois M. and Michelle G. Magalong. 2008. “Disruptive Social Capital: (Un)Healthy Socio-Spatial Interactions Among Filipino Men Living with HIV/AIDS.” Health & Place 14: 182-197.
One of the biggest revolutions in health research comes from the idea that people exist in places, families, and networks, and those influences can help foster an individual’s progress, or not, in health. Social capital is the idea that within social contexts, people differentially trust and rely on individuals in reciprocal relationships that encourage and reward selected behaviors within that social group. The norms can either be healthy or not.
Nonetheless, as Takahashi and Magalong point out, there are any influences on individual choices, and social relationships can take on different aspects in places where people struggle facing oppression, poverty, and other structural forces that ‘distrupt’ and destabilize what might otherwise be more ordered expectations of relationships and contexts. That is, people can’t always reciprocate, and as a result, trust may not form, and if it does, expectations may not be met. Furthermore, not all network effects are good. Networks can serve as means to set groups against each other, or set the larger group against its more vulnerable members. People in distrupted contexts have to be more entrepreneurial in looking out for themselves; they can’t just sit back and expect their social contexts and contracts to deliver.
Takahasi and Magalong interview 52 Filipino men living in Los Angeles through a community organization, the Asian Pacific Aids Intervention Team. What they found was that social capital worked readily for these men who were able to move into employment and housing opportunities through their families. Nonetheless, gay activities and identity are strongly suppressed among traditional Filipino families, so that men within these contexts did not really see their families as potential sources of support in their relationships. As a result, many of these interview participants reported in high-risk sexual behaviors in part because of the anonymity involved, as a way to separate that part of their lives from their everyday social networks. Their places–homeplaces and places of homosexual expression–existed in entirely separate social milieu, neither of which informed the other.
The HIV positive diagnosis was a severely disruptive event for these men. I found this quote to be particularly poignant:
I started doing heavy drugs [after I received my HIV positive test result]. … I wanted to kill myself. … I was doing, excessive amount of, not just crystal, I was doing, you know, I mean, I tried heroin, I tried, um, PCP. I tried, smoking crack. I tried, primos. I tried hydroglass, crank, peanut butter crystal, paint crystal. I tried uh, mushrooms. I tried uh, angel dust. I tried, oh, every drug, you name it. Acid. … (And um, was there anyone that you, you feel, you felt like you could turn to during this time?) Um, no. I didn’t feel that I, I didn’t feel comfortable, where, you know, I didn’t feel comfortable going to, any of the group. No. (And um, did you, talk to your, your therapist? About this? After when you got your results?) Um, yeah, but it was, like, too shocking for me. I didn’t want to, talk to anybody after. Because I had to, rethink my life. So I wanted to be left alone. [232949, Filipino male, 32 years old, immigrant, lived in US 20 years, diagnosed in 1995]
He’s not coping very well, and he is isolating himself even more when he needs support the most.
Moments of rebuilding social capital came for some of these men when their illnesses required them to come out to family, and/or when their own illnesses coincided with those of other family members who needed help: rebuilding across the common issues of chronic illnesses like cancer became possible, and in some instances, redeeming in their family networks.
In sum, the work highlights how important it is for researchers in health to really understand what disruption is, and how it works in contexts.