Linking the health profession to the normalization of citizenship, scholars influenced by Michel Foucault claim that while biomedicine attends to the health of bodies, it is also constitutive of the social and bureaucratic practices that socialize subjects of the modern welfare state. Yet, we seldom learn about how patients themselves draw the medical gaze, nor how their resistances to biomedical intervention both invite and deflect control. I try to show this by means of cliniciansʹ and Khmer refugeesʹ interpretations of their encounters. This study illustrates that refugee medicine is a mix of good intentions, desire to control diseased and deviant populations, and the exigencies of limited resources which often favor medicalization. Californian clinicans, many of them Asian-Americans, display a deep faith in the efficacy of modern medicine for third world patients so that they can function in the new country. Khmer refugees, in contrast, seek rather specific resources while wishing to elude control over the body and mind that goes with medical care. I argue that the biomedical gaze is not such a diffused hegemonic power but is itself generated by the complex contestation of refugee subjects pursuing their own goals. Clinicians and refugees are equally caught up in webs of power involving control and subterfuge, appropriation and resistance, negotiation and learning that constitute biopolitical lessons of what becoming American may entail for an underprivileged Asian group.
Khmer immigrants , citizenship , refugee medicine , biopolitics