Accepted Paper:

Uses of hope at the ends of life  
Mythily Meher (Independent)

Paper short abstract:

Set at an Indian nursing home where the healthy often evoked a hopeful outlook to comfort the suffering, this paper shows hope as best understood in terms of its intricate, fraught relationships with hopelessness and helplessness in this institution's non-normative and circular temporal frame.

Paper long abstract:

The linking of positivity to health, in which hope is characterised as healing, is more and more a mainstay in medical contexts. My paper asks after hope's uses in end-of-life care by drawing ethnographies of hope in oncology and physical rehabilitation together with fieldwork at an Indian nursing home, where a hopeful outlook was evoked by the healthy to comfort the suffering (especially the suffering who voiced their desire to die so that suffering might end). These conversations—awkward but inevitable—point to the jarring sensibilities between classical understandings of hope as agentive and effective, and the orientation of residents who embodied pain, and even boredom. Nearing the end of life, after all, ordinary senses of future fall away. Yet, I attend to more subtle hope-like attitudes evoked by pained and restless residents to carry themselves from one moment to the next amidst future-less orientations—like realism and acceptance—that seemed like hope's antithesis. I show hope as a quality best understood in terms of its intricate, fraught relationships with hopelessness and helplessness in the stream of time, where time, in this institutional setting, is circular and predictable. At this nursing home, time, action and hope are demonstrably intertwined in unusual, non-linear ways, broadening hope's potential as a category of analysis.

Panel P07
Anxious hope: life and death in hospital ethnography