Accepted paper:

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


Alison Macdonald (UCL)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

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