ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

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

(P46)

Aesthetics of healing and the body in a globalising world

Location Arts and Aesthetics Lecture Hall No. 002, SAA-II
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Alison Macdonald (UCL) email
Serena Bindi (Sorbonne University, Paris Descartes ) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

How do the aesthetic dimensions of different healing systems intersect and/or relate to the aesthetics of embodied experiences of health and illness? We seek to explore how aesthetics associated with different healing treatments contribute to the healing process as well as consider how certain aesthetics of the body might also intersect with these wider systems of healing including biomedical 'technologies'.

Long Abstract

This panel seeks to explore aesthetic dimensions of different healing systems as they intersect and/or relate to the aesthetics of embodied experiences of health and illness. In the current anthropological literature, some attention has been paid to the way in which aesthetics associated with different healing treatments contribute to the healing process by affecting the embodied experience of the patient. In particular, how does engaging the patient's senses and/of/or aesthetics (odors, colors, sight, music, and all kinds of sensory stimuli) affect the embodied experience of the patient? Conversely, we also seek to explore how certain aesthetics of the body intersect with these wider systems of healing including biomedical 'technologies', and consider the wider implications of such intermingling of the body and body 'politic'. For example, how might modes of bodily 'visibility' be pragmatically managed by patients and healers in response to different healing systems and / or as a consequence of illness? Finally, in what ways might globalizing medical practices impact the specific aesthetics of bodily materialities and local systems of healing in nuanced and unexpected ways? We invite contributions from ethnographic research that deals with the embodied experience of patients on these two fronts, offering critical reflection upon the ways in which aesthetics of healing systems and/ or aesthetics of the body illness speak to wider variants of well being.

Chair: James Staples

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Aesthetics, Healing and Embodied Experience in Dehradun: a comparative approach to healing and aesthetics in a north Indian urban context.

Author: Serena Bindi (Sorbonne University, Paris Descartes )  email

Short Abstract

This contribution adopts a comparative approach to healing and aesthetics in different healing systemsin Dehradun (Uttarakhand). The aim of this paper is to explore the complex ways in which ritual healing and biomedicine in two different settings engage the senses and aesthetics of the patient and its family in order to affect their embodied experience.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on an intensive fieldwork carried out in the city of Dehradun (North India), in two different settings for assessment and healing: a facility that provides physical and mental function assessment and therapy for families with children with special needs and a small and crowded temple where a local medium offers divination and therapeutic treatments to patients and sufferers.

While recent studies have shown how the basis for the efficacy of some treatments can be found in the fact that they are directed at engaging the patient's senses, a gap seems to persist in comparisons of the aesthetics of different healing techniques (from biomedicine to ritual healing) and analysis of the dissimilar ways in which they work in eliciting a change in the embodied state of the sufferers.

In order to contribute to filling this gap, this contribution adopts a comparative approach to healing and aesthetics in different healing systems. The aim of this paper is to explore the complex ways in which ritual healing and biomedicine in two different settings engage the senses and aesthetics of the patient and its family in order to affect their embodied experience.

Moreover, taking into account the fact that local systems of healing are incessantly brought into contact with one another, the paper offers critical reflection upon the impact of this encounter on the aesthetics of these different contexts for diagnosis and healing.

Understanding the notion of social body: A critical study of scientific medicine and religious healing in Mizoram

Author: Lalhmangaihi Chhakchhuak (University of Hyderabad)  email

Short Abstract

The concept “body” of the indigenous tribe in Mizoram, North East India eventually acknowledges a new dimension with the entry of western rule and Christian missionaries. The eradication of traditional ritual healing, introduction of scientific medicine and Christian divine healing by western culture in Mizoram will be discussed in this paper.

Long Abstract

The modern western body sees body as an individualistic form. The colonial rule and entrance of Christian missionaries gave birth to understanding of body, health and healing in Mizoram. The Mizos lost many of their traditional cultural practices, healing and tribal medicines with the wide spread of colonial scientific medicine by the 19th century. From the world of tribal healing and ritual practices, the Mizos entered into scientific interpretation of medical system and healing. It was not just the colonial medicine that has replaced the traditional healing practices, but Christianity that introduces the idea of individualistic body.

Body has become the site for scientific medical healing as well as religious institution. In an advanced scientific world, the Mizos are familiar with medical system such as allopathic, Ayurveda, homeopathy. Similarly, they practice Christian divine healing ministry immensely. Religion has a strong position in Mizo society, which regulates the understanding of body towards religious law. Body image, fashion, food, music, art of healing are confined within religious institution. This paper will explore a critical study of the transitional change of traditional healings to modern medical system. Most importantly, examine critically the practices of both scientific medical healing and divine healing in contemporary Mizo society.

"Seeing as surviving": the aesthetics of visibility in experiencing breast cancer in Mumbai, India.

Author: Alison Macdonald (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the ambiguities of the 'aesthetics' of visibility in breast cancer in Mumbai, exploring how patient's and their families pragmatically manage cancer's "visibility", whilst simultaneously locating hope in the very act of 'seeing' other survivors.

Long Abstract

This paper sets out the complexities and ambiguities of the 'aesthetics' of visibility that are inherent in experiences of suffering with breast cancer in Mumbai. Here aesthetics refers to the ways in which the patient and their family's well being, hope, strength and will to survive, are inextricably dependent upon acts of revelation and concealment that are constantly negotiated. In particular the paper explores how (a) ideas about physical appearance are situated collectively and require pragmatic management of visibility in the 'outside' in order to maintain and preserve social relations of the familial 'inside', and (b) how the aesthetic corporeality of the 'survivor's' body, of looking and behaving "normally", engenders a kind of inspirational support and certain kind of 'truth' through the specific modality of sight. In this way the aesthetics of visibility confers greater impact on a patients will to live than any amount of "talking". The paper considers how darsan, "seeing and being seen" perhaps provides a means to think through the way the moment of revelation and vision of a cancer survivor works to reckon with relations of affiliation and recognition that are especially salient in this context. Thus it is suggested that vision becomes a tool through which relations of affinity and recognition are created and crystallised in a very immediate and powerful way.

Scepticism as healing art

Author: Helen Macdonald (University of Cape Town)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on Taussig (2003) this paper argues that a self-conscious performativity is an expected part of local healing practices in Chhattisgarh. Techniques often rely on the aesthetics of sight and touch, thereby provoking skeptical responses. This paper calls for an analysis of the sceptical style that allows for the immersion of modernist criticisms of healers, healing systems and interventionist strategies.

Long Abstract

Social scientists have interrogated notions of belief and scepticism yet this critical scholarship generally has not translated into public health or the health sciences. Notably absent from this public health and secular humanitarianism discourse is any acknowledgement given to the role of scepticism as a personal disposition toward doubt or incredulity of knowledge, persons, or institutions that lies embedded in the social flows of shared doubt. This paper charts a popular healing technique used by Chhattisgarhi traditional healers which evokes considerable scepticism because of its engagement with the patient’s senses, particularly the aesthetics of sight and touch. Referred to as a ‘trick’ by many locals, the ‘lime trick’ involves the extraction of witchcraft objects such as stones, ash, seeds, and bones from the body of the sick. As valid as many theoretical positions are, they fail to answer why it would be that if local people ‘know’ the technique to be a trick, why they would engage with it? Drawing on Taussig (2003) I argue that a self-conscious performativity is an expected part of healing practices in Chhattisgarh, which relies on the revelation of the already known. Following Taussig, I argue that power flows not from the act of masking of the trick, rather it lies in the skilled unmasking which paradoxically creates concealment. This paper calls for a more nuanced investigation of skepticism that allows for the immersion of modernist criticisms of healers, healing systems and interventionist strategies.

The arts and aesthetics of popular healing among the Santals of rural West Bengal, India

Author: Kamminthang Mantuong (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the aesthetics of popular healing as performed by the Deyashis of Santal 'tribal' village.

Long Abstract

The notion of 'aesthetics' in healing ritual as performed by the Deyashis of Santal tribal village seem to established new order and cosmos. With this in mind, the author of this paper examines the Deyashi-faridi relationship in a 'clinical' setting with rural West Bengal as its ethnographic site. The author examines the shifting 'mental landscape' and 'ideational cosmos' of the faridis (clients) as Santal cosmology intersect with the sacred cosmology of Hindu 'cure deities'. The coming of Deyashis, the traditional Hindu healers, in Santal village mark a sharp departure from their dependence on the Santal traditional healers called the Ojhas. This has implication not only on the materiality and practice of ritual healing, but also on the experience of illness and health itself. On top of this, the author examines how the folk healer relates to biomedicine as an important reference point and exit strategy in his dealings with the faridis.

Rwanda: Healing and the aesthetic of poetry

Author: Andrea Grieder (University of Zurich & EHESS Paris)  email

Short Abstract

My presentation explores the aesthetic of poetic writing/speaking in Rwanda as a way of dealing with Genocide destruction.

Long Abstract

In Rwanda, Genocide destroyed bodies and minds, human beings have been cut in peaces, deliberately. The sociocultural conception of illness and health is central to understand the meaning of this violence to the survivors. Traditionally, the individual and the collective body is conceptualised through the metaphor of flow and blockage. Which ways of coping are used in Rwanda to repair the peaces of bodies and minds? As a royal tradition and everyday metaphoric way of speaking, poetry is a culturally authorized form of dealing with traumatic experiences of genocide. It plays an important role in speaking and writing about the genocide in Rwanda. Drawing on my ethnographic research, my presentation explores how poetic writing in Rwanda deals with the destruction on the individual and collective body. I argue that we can identify an aesthetic of poetic writing in Rwanda that can be seen as a form of healing of genocide destruction.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.