Imperial Splenda: Globalization, Culture, and Type 2 Diabetes in the U.S. and Japan

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Globalization scholars have disagreed about the effects of globalization on the production and reproduction of difference: Do fundamental differences endure, do cultures converge, or is there hybridization? This dissertation analyzes the durability of distinct medical cultures in two technologically advanced healthcare systems that rely on an evidence-based, biomedical approach. Durability refers to the tendency to maintain or develop diverse, even idiosyncratic, practices and beliefs--even as the forces of globalization are perceived to be pressing health practices everywhere toward a single global standard. To do so, this dissertation offers a comparative, empirically based argument using the case of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. and Japan. As an inductive, theory-constructing project, the argument has at its foundation 11 months of ethnographic field work in Japanese hospitals and clinic exam rooms, 115 semi-structured interviews with patients and biomedical health practitioners in Japan, and 25 interviews with American health care providers and patients. I argue that physicians in both research sites, Okayama, Japan and North Carolina, USA, practice empirical biomedicine, but that empirical biomedicine is not all there is to biomedical practice. Practicing physicians in both contexts act not only on increasingly globalized professional standards, but also on local knowledge, on their own explanatory models for type 2 diabetes, and in reaction to local patient populations' explanatory models. Further, local knowledge and patient interactions shape the ways in which practicing physicians interpret global standards and best practices. Occasionally, they may even be reshaped beyond recognition without interfering with physicians' self-evaluation as participants in a universal, standardized scientific project. The interaction of globalizing standards of practice, local knowledge, and local explanatory models of illness can result in dramatically divergent medical practice across different social contexts--in this case, the U.S. and Japan.






Armstrong-Hough, Mari Jean (2011). Imperial Splenda: Globalization, Culture, and Type 2 Diabetes in the U.S. and Japan. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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