ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P45)

Interdisciplinary approaches to wellbeing and anthropological perspectives

Location CSLG Conference Room
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenor

Sarah White (University of Bath) email
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Short Abstract

The panel will discuss how wellbeing is understood in different cultural and community contexts and suggest how this may challenge universalist approaches. It will consider the contribution of anthropology to cross- and interdisciplinary perspectives.

Long Abstract

Increasing interest in wellbeing in academic and policy circles has drawn heavily on psychology and/or economics and largely ignored the anthropological tradition. The construction of well-being in any culture and community depends on historical, socio-economic and subjective understanding of wellbeing which varies in different communities and societies. It may be important to examine how meaning and manifestations of wellbeing change across societies and across times. This may help us in developing a better understanding of wellbeing from cross-cultural and sub-cultural perspectives. This panel invites papers which present anthropological research grounded in particular experiences of wellbeing and reflections on the politics of discourses on personhood. The panel will discuss how local perspectives challenge or confirm apparently global, universalist constructions, and the implications of taking wellbeing as a focus for anthropological enquiry.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Wellbeing in India: Should Anthropologists Be Part of the Debate?

Authors: Sarah White (University of Bath)  email
Shreya Jha (University of Bath)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues that anthropologists should engage with the burgeoning debates on wellbeing. It uses mixed method research in Adivasi villages in India to describe how universalist approaches to wellbeing are challenged by local ways of understanding and narrating the self.

Long Abstract

On 20 April 2011 The Economic Times reported that India had been ranked 71 out of 124 countries in a global study of wellbeing. This touched a raw nerve, not least because Pakistan came in at No. 40! Such surveys are increasingly common, and tend to be dominated by economists and psychologists. This paper asks whether anthropologists should aim to be part of the debate and what it might mean if they were. Three arguments are put forward for engagement. First, the wellbeing agenda treads on classic anthropological territory - people's perspectives on their own lives. Second, it is increasingly intertwined with policy, making it potentially the basis on which decisions about resource allocation are used. Third, anthropology has a clear contribution to make to the thinking of psychologists and can itself learn from cross-disciplinary exchange.

The paper has three main sections. The first reviews existing literature on well-being in India and asks how it represents the challenges to standard approaches that this location involves. The second introduces our own ongoing mixed method research on wellbeing in Adivasi villages in Chhattisgarh, India. We describe the challenges of using a qualitative methodology to derive a quantitative survey. We then discuss some of the difficulties we found in asking people about their wellbeing: preference for the concrete over the abstract; ambivalence in speaking of the future; resistance to direct questions about the self or family relationships. The final section considers the implications of our experience for the contribution of ethnographic research to the understanding of wellbeing in India and what more attention to the contextual grounding of wellbeing might offer to mainstream approaches.

Inventing boundary of wellbeing and development:a response to Integrating Action Plan for the Naxal affected tribal districts in India

Author: Govinda Chandra Rath (G.B.Pant Social science Institute, Allahabad)  email

Short Abstract

The concept of wellbing is very much close to Escoberian view on anthropology of development, which deconstructs the centralizing planning process. Individual choice is gaining ground in its place. the Integrated Action Plan, which the Government of India has recently introduced to check the Naxal radicalism needs to be modeled with such perspectives.

Long Abstract

The shifting of argument from development anthropology to Escoberian view of anthropology of development has engaged in deconstruction of the conventional practice of centralizing planning process. It is now emphasizing on individual choice in its place. The concept, wellbing is very much close to Escoberian view, which opens a new avenue in anthropological orientation of development.The paper will show how the tribes now give preference to the sense of wellbeing and present an antithetical stand towards the stereotyped notions of development. This view of the present paper gets articulated from the findings of a study conducted among 407 tribal populations of Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, India. The central theme has been placed it in the context of the Integrated Action Plan introduced by the Government of India to check the Naxal radicalism.

Belief systems: Forgotten Component in well being

Author: Mahima Nayar (Tata Institute of Social Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Explanations of well-being either come from individual approaches or are related to the social structures. Religious or spiritual beliefs are often left out; this paper emphasizes the importance of these beliefs in determining the well being of women living in a slum community in Delhi, India.

Long Abstract

Human well-being has largely been understood through either the individual/ personality based approaches or through the influence of social structures into a person's everyday life. Well-being is understood as an outcome of a set of measures and the nature of well-being is often left unexplored. The studies examine well- being domains related to self, social relationships whereas religious or spiritual beliefs are usually missed out in these explanations. In many societies the feeling of well-being comes not from the ideas of autonomy, mastery over universe and so on; but from the idea that the present moment (whether good or bad) is related to fate. This paper attempts to bridge the distance between individual factors and approaches which deal with social structures by looking at the religious and spiritual beliefs which are influenced by the 'habitus' of a person . It argues that a person's beliefs are interlinked with his/her environment and the two influence the well being of the person. This argument is furthered by presenting the views of women living in an urban slum community in Delhi, India.

On the "logico-poetics" of Francis Zimmerman

Author: Roshni Babu (IIT)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses how Francis Zimmerman invalidates the concept/precept binary, in the context of its consequences for the definition of wellbeing and illness, and philosophy as a system of thought.

Long Abstract

The recent interest in the non-western systems of medicine and healing, and studies in ritual and possession, hinges upon alternative conceptions of self-hood; a move away from the fixed notions of identity to the one in which self-hood or identity is conceived as a process, mutable and non-linear. Though it emerged as a denial of Louis Dumont's thesis on the nature of man, it soon gave birth to a host of studies on the South-Asian thought systems. Of particular importance here are the studies that developed the 'theory of humors', which has thrown insights onto the alternative conceptions of health, illness, cure etc. and in particular on the Ayurvedic and such traditional healing therapies. These explorations can also be seen as a search for alternative perceptions on scientific nomenclature of disease, illness, etc. which thus escapes the traditional western medical taxonomies. On the other hand, the question of nomenclature was also pertinent to the definition of modern 'Philosophy' that moulded its image upon 'concepts', and differentiated itself from those eastern-systems of thought that are believed to have built upon 'precepts'. In this background this paper evaluates the contribution of Francis Zimmerman; his anthropological explorations into the Indian medical tradition of Ayurveda, in order to analyse how he negotiates with the Western taxonomic system, and emerges with new categories for thinking. Of particular emphasis is given to his attempt to invalidate the concept/precept binary, and its consequences to Gilles Deleuze's definition of Philosophy, philosophy's relation to nomenclature and its objects.

Wellbeing in polluted conditions: anthropology in an industrialised Chinese village

Author: Anna Lora-Wainwright (University of Oxford )  email

Short Abstract

What is wellbeing for those who live with the constant threat of industrial pollution? Drawing from anthropological research in an industrialised Chinese village, I trace the rise of subjects for whom industry is as much part of wellbeing as it is an obstacle to it, against universalist definitions.

Long Abstract

What is wellbeing for those who live under the constant threat of industrial pollution? How do extreme conditions push locals to redefine what counts as 'being well'? How do such redefinitions affect the lived experience of pollution itself? Drawing from anthropological research carried out as part of an interdisciplinary project on environment and health in an industrialised Chinese village, this paper examines how villagers come to understand and respond to pollution-related health risks. The village of Baocun is affected by pollution from a very large fertiliser plant. This causes a range of health problems among the local population. Much as they critique the local industry and mining for the potential adverse effects on their health, locals also argue that they have gotten 'used to it'. The paper shows how wellbeing and 'a good life' are being redefined in light of the current social, political and economic configurations. These include local power structures, economic dependency, an increasingly divided community, and experiences with seeking redress. This has produced new kinds of subjectivities for whom industry is as much part of wellbeing as it is an obstacle to it, prodding us to reconsider universalist definitions.

The aesthetics of rural life or manifestations of wellbeing in Latvia's small-holder economies.

Author: Agnese Cimdina (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine manifestations of wellbeing in the lives of Latvian farmers under the conditions of growing economic recession and disquiet in Latvia’s rural areas. It also aims to challenge the understanding of economic activity as based on economic efficiency.

Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine manifestations of wellbeing in the lives of Latvian farmers under the conditions when there are no jobs in rural areas and no markets for local produce, farms go bankrupt and many rural residents migrate away from their communities. The manifestations of wellbeing are approached through the concept of embeddedness. The paper pertain to challenge the understanding of economic activity as based on economic efficiency by indicating that economic development guidelines set out to modernise rural areas and enhance agricultural productivity have to deal with complex relationships embedded in local socio-cultural contexts. The paper argues that relations in which rural life strategies are embedded have culturally constructed meanings that help to explain why people remain in rural areas and carry on economically inefficient production. Such viable agro-activities as for instance bath-house services, home beer-brewing, organic farming and small-holder farming are not primarily guided by economic efficiency, but rather by culturally construed awareness of one's own identity and that of others, of certain values, of social and natural environment (including one's home place), of continuity, all amounting to a certain vision of a good life. The study of rural lifeworlds, economic practices and agro-activities is based on the analysis of culturally constructed values, social ties, as well as human relations with nature and meanings attached to them in 40 Latvian farms, where long term fieldwork was carried out in 2010 and 2011.

'Belonging to one's place' as condition of a good life: understandings of well-being in rural Latvia

Author: Ieva Raubisko (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

The proposed paper discusses how the concept of well-being is applied in the research project on changing development strategies and cultural spaces of Latvia’s rural inhabitants,* focusing on the ideas of ‘belonging to one’s place’ as an important aspect of well-being among rural people.

*This paper complements the presentation proposed for this panel by Agnese Cimdina, another researcher of the mentioned EU-funded interdisciplinary project.

Long Abstract

The proposed paper discusses how the concept of well-being is applied in the research on changing development strategies of Latvia's rural inhabitants. Based on fieldwork in the Latvian countryside, I examine the ideas of 'belonging to one's place' as an important aspect of well-being among rural people. 'Place' encompasses diverse meanings, such as attachment to one's land and family /predecessors (and thus continuity), close relationships with one's neighbours, living in accord with the rhythms of nature, feeling free etc., which play significant role in people's understandings of a good life. Under the conditions of unemployment and depopulation in the Latvian countryside, it is often the attachment to one's place that motivates people to stay at home rather than migrate to cities or foreign countries in search for a better living.

More generally, this paper looks at the merits of introducing the concept of well-being into Latvian social sciences and humanities research. Inspired by the fruitful use of the concept by the WeD group at the University of Bath (2002-2008), I argue that well-being as an analytical tool holds great potential not only for Latvian social anthropological studies, but also for academic and applied research done within other fields or across different disciplines.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.