Accepted paper:

Scepticism as healing art

Authors:

Helen Macdonald (University of Cape Town)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

panel P46
Aesthetics of healing and the body in a globalising world