Accepted paper:

Technologies and human ‘becoming’ in two cancer wards in urban India


Alison Macdonald (UCL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores acts of becoming in urban India as patients and clinicians seek to restore health and provide health services in Mumbai Cancer centres. In thinking through the anthropology of ‘human’ becoming, the ethnography demonstrates moments of being alternative to the restraints which often shape individuals’ spheres of living.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the ways in which ‘technologies’- broadly defined in relation to the myriad modalities of cancer treatment- correspond to instances of human becoming in urban India. It examines how those technologies typically deemed as creating pain and crisis, such as the radiotherapy machine, lack of drugs and an overcrowded and under-served hospital in resource poor setting, are in fact constitutive of diverse forms of human aspiration as a mode of ‘becoming’. Examining two contrasting ethnographic moments, the paper ruminates on the lives of two individuals: a patient navigating treatment and a doctor endeavouring to provide ‘good enough’ care in Mumbai. The paper explores how these individuals inhabit particular spheres in two general cancer hospitals and how this translates into modest but hopeful instances of becoming. Anthropological approaches often theorise such endeavours in light of concepts such as social suffering, structural violence and systems of biopower that can over determine the structural and / or technological impositions made on, and through, persons and things. Drawing on the work of Biehl and Locke, I attempt to think through how individuals move beyond the constraints which shape their everyday endeavours in order to imagine brighter futures.

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Being, being human, and becoming beyond human