Speaker: Projit Mukharij (University of Pennsylvania, HSS)
Abstract: Ever since the 1970s, medical anthropologists have documented the seemingly irrational appetite for injections amongst diverse groups in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The existence of specialized “injection-doctors” and the robust demand for injections amongst patients has been a source of both anthropological fascination and public health anxiety. The spread of a number of diseases, ranging from the predictable HIV to the more contentious infantile polio, has been attributed to the popularity of injections. Attempts to explain this popularity has usually fallen back on cultural essentialisms. The few attempts to historicize this popularity have also ultimately seen it as a result of “natives” being dazzled by the successes of early, colonial public health campaigns deploying injections. As a result, South Asians, Thais, Kenyans and others thus studied, have all been rendered either as unreflecting exemplars of their ahistorical cultural attitudes or as simpletons incapable of comprehending the rational operations of modern medical technologies.
Yet, once we move away from the observational presentism of most anthropological works on the subject and the exclusive reliance on colonial documentary archives in the rare attempts to historicize, we find a very different history of this popularity. Using a range of cheap Hindi and Bengali books on injection which have been published since the 1920s, we will argue that the popularity of injections in South Asia is neither the consequence of inherited cultural attitudes nor of wide-eyed credulity. Instead, it is a popularity that has been engendered by the prolonged deployment of labour and capital by pharmaceutical companies (including big, multi-national ones) and small-town medical entrepreneurs. Rather than South Asian subjects, we will argue that, it is the western scholars who have demonstrated an astounding culturally fashioned gullibility by persistently ignoring the obvious causes of the popularity of injections and falling inevitably back on essentialist notions about “irrational natives”.
Location: Room 2019, Floor 2U, Claire Fagin Hall
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