Medi04


Techniques of transformation, healing movements, and medicine worlds 
Convenors:
Nasima Selim (Freie Universität Berlin)
Robert Logan Sparks (University of New Mexico)
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Stream:
Health and Medicine
Location:
Aula 5
Sessions:
Monday 15 April, 9:00-10:45, 11:15-13:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

The panel will explore the techniques and technologies of self and society that connect medicine and religion in a transforming world with ethnographic examples of medicine worlds and healing movements.

Long Abstract

The panel seeks to explore the techniques and technologies (of self and society) that connect medicine and religion in a transforming world. We are looking for papers that examine the discursive articulations and practical enactments of transformation in/across medicine worlds and healing movements with ethnographic examples. What are the techniques and technologies of self and social transformation that conflate the boundaries of medicine and religion? How are the intimate/private and the social/public spheres bound together in the work of transformation? How does the affective labor of mobilizing these techniques/technologies limit or open up possibilities of transformation? What kinds of secular or post-secular politics do these (healing) movements and medicine-worlds set in motion with the mobilization of such techniques/technologies? The papers should address one or more of these questions but are not limited by them. Case-studies of techniques and technologies of transformation drawn from alternative and complementary medicine, religious/spiritual healing practices, and biomedicine are welcome.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Nasima Selim (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Berlin and connected sites in 2013-2015, the article discusses the Sufi techniques of transformation and post-secular healing: how the everyday secular, materialist bodies can be transfigured through the techniques of whirling, breathing, and energizing.

Paper long abstract:

Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Berlin and connected sites in 2013-2015, the article details the contemporary enactments of Sufi body prayers (Körpergebete) (Koll 2007) and post-secular healing. The Sufi-designated practices of dhikr (repeated recitation of the names of Allah and other sacred phrases), sema (whirling movement with music), the more recent Sufi dance-forms (combining dhikr, sema, and other healing technologies), and the Tasawwuri walks (embodying the affective body postures of past Sufi teachers) can be framed as techniques of transformation (Heelas and Kohn 1986). This paper draws key analytical lessons by juxtaposing the sociological/anthropological discussion of techniques of the body (Mauss) and the Sufi discourse of transformation in correspondence, and not by subsuming the other. The paper also discusses the empirical lesson of understanding how the everyday secular, materialist bodies can be transfigured into subtle/material sounding, moving, feeling bodies through the techniques of whirling, breathing, and energizing. Another lesson emerged from the close reading of the classical and contemporary Sufi articulation of transforming a self-centered ego (nafs), activating the subtle centers (lataif) and the metaphysical heart (qalb) in the novice's journey through the anticipated stages/stations (maqamat) guided by an authorized teacher. Thinking with the Sufi techniques of transformation in terms of Sufi bodies and experiential anatomies (Cohen 1993) can expand the conditions of possibility for imagining/inhabiting the human body and post-secular healing.

Author:

Robert Logan Sparks (University of New Mexico)

Paper short abstract:

The notion of a form or lineage of traditional healing has very little meaning outside of the personal context through which such highly personalized practices are transmitted. Elena Avila, one of the first Chicana traditional curanderas is a productive case study.

Paper long abstract:

The life of Elena Avila, a postmodern Chicana curandera from El Paso via Albuquerque, is examined through the angles of ethnographic fieldwork, discourse analysis and interview material to highlight her biography as a productive narrative, but one as of yet largely unnoticed in chicano studies and beyond. The intention is n part self-consciously descriptive in addition to analytical, critical and autoethnographic. Avila was pivotal in a revival of interest in traditional Mesoamerican medicine in the United States. As a mental health nurse and specialist in supporting victims of sexual abuse in mainstream healthcare, her transition into a traditional healer is noteworthy for what it can tell us about the ways in which the Mexican-American immigrant experience reinterprets traditional medical knowledge in relationship to mainstream biomedicine and Anglo, dominant cultural views of wellness. In the process, issues of hybridity, authenticity and the lived experiences of Avila's relatives and students add signficant texture and motivation to further a number of related discussions yet to be had on the intersection of what is termed "tradition" in pyscho-medical practice, and the inevitable sieve of personal experience and the discursive synthesis practiced in liminal cultural environments.

Author:

Leonardo Menegola (University of Milano Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes improvisations with patients suffering with Alzheimer disease, discussing how MT treatments embody particular conceptualizations of illness and care, by vesting patients with a particular kind of agency and personhood, and by raising "other senses" in the work of therapy.

Paper long abstract:

This paper bases on fourteen-years fieldwork in a retirement home in Milan, Italy, holding a double role as a PhD medical anthropologist and a music therapist myself.

By analyzing improvisations with patients suffering with Alzheimer disease, I discuss how non-verbal communication underpins forms of knowledge that help representing the meaningfulness of therapy and its mechanisms of efficacy.

Medical anthropological reflection highlights that MT treatments embody particular conceptualizations of illness (Young 1995) and care, by vesting patients with a particular kind of agency and personhood.

What kind of knowledges is MT based on - both as a social and historical phenomenon, and as an object of ethnographic research?

Anthropological description of MT treatments draws on "somatic modes of attention" (Csordas 1993) in order to analyse how the interactions between music therapists and patients organize the therapy's meaning. How the improvisational soundscapes (Kheshti 2009) the therapist and the patient share rely on specific codifications of feelings and performative formations (configurations) of sensoriality, which raise "other senses" in therapy's work?

By answering these questions, the paper shows that the "sense of healing" in MT is based on particular politics of personhood and the Self, which in their turn are based on particular kinds of interactions carried out in MT sessions. Finally, epistemological-methodological reflection is proposed on the challenges of the music therapist-ethnographer double role, and on how the forms of sensorial, performative, non-verbal knowledge music therapy builds on raise gnoseological questions on an anthropology of and through the senses (Stoller 1997, Classen 1997).

Author:

Digne Udre (University of Tartu)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the transformation of Latvian mythological ornament in the course of the 20th-century - from national symbols, it has moved into various realms or human activities, including healing and alternative medicine.

Paper long abstract:

The paper explores the transformation of Latvian mythological ornament - from national symbols, it has moved into various realms or human activities, including healing and alternative medicine.

Mythological ornament embodies the idea that certain elements from folk ornament represent deities from Latvian mythology. To each of the main Latvian deities and some of the mythological creatures, a corresponding ornament can be found. This kind of interpretation was created within the framework of nationalism at 20-30thies of the 20th-century. It was a prosperous time for nationalistic ideas when the quest for ethnic symbols and special Latvian manner where searched everywhere.

However, in the course of the 20th-century mythological ornament has transformed into an interdisciplinary cultural phenomenon where belief, national and ethnic sentiments, esoteric outlook and economy are intertwined in a mutually constitutive way.

Nowadays the visual performance of ornament comprises narrative, which is connected with the benevolent qualities ascribed to the mythological ornament. Its practitioners promote the idea that mythological ornament one the hand can protect against evil forces, on the other - attract favorable ones. Paper will focus on the transformations of mythological ornament into the means of alternative medicine and its uses in the contemporary healing processes.

Case study represented in the paper will explore the techniques of a contemporary Latvian healer who uses mythological ornament in physical and spiritual healing and it will reveal how the mythological concepts are related to healing since the strengths of a certain ornament is based on its connection to the mythological deity.

Author:

Suvi Salmenniemi (University of Turku)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among practitioners of alternative therapeutic practices in Finland and engaging with debates in critical theory, this paper addresses experiences of alienation in work and the ways in which therapeutic practices are mobilized to confront them.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork among practitioners of alternative therapeutic practices in Finland and engaging with debates in critical theory, this paper addresses experiences of alienation in work. The deeply felt and embodied sense of alienation emerged as a central theme in the practitioners' narratives of working life, taking the form of burnout and depression. This alienation was articulated through two tropes: 'loss of the self' and 'refusal of subjectivity'. The practitioners sought to contest and alleviate alienation by assembling packages of self-care consisting of a range of spiritual, psychological and alternative health practices and knowledges as well as everyday lifestyle choices. These self-care assemblages constituted a form of everyday resistance, organized as individualized and small-scale acts of non-compliance and subversion in the everyday. They were mobilized to distance and disengage from the neoliberal ethic of work centred around constant performance, efficiency and the valorization of waged work. The paper suggests that therapeutic practices are neither inevitably nor necessarily allied with neoliberalism: they can be assembled both into projects reinforcing the regulation of subjectivity for capitalist purposes, and into life-fostering projects resistant to the dehumanizing effects of work. The paper concludes by suggesting that part of the appeal of therapeutic assemblages derives from their capacity to instil hope and a sense of agency in a situation in which the world appears to the subject as cold and indifferent.

Author:

Britta Rutert

Paper short abstract:

The paper looks at the ambivalent and almost religiously debated position of alternative medicine & traditional healing within the (bio)-medical system.

Paper long abstract:

The biomedical systems conveys the message of being the most powerful and successful instance when it come to the treatment of harmful illnesses and disease like, for instance, cancer or diabetes. However, this hegemonic understanding of truth and healing is overshadowed by an engrossing quest for alternative healing. While biomedicine provides partial solutions, it leave out essential human qualities like well-being, affection or self-care. These, in contrast, are mostly left to traditional, alternative and complementary medicine and healing, systems that allegedly provide a holistic view to healing processes. Although increasingly frequented by patients globally, the position of these healing techniques remains marginalized within the medical system. The argument being always the lack of evidence in research, even though this argument increasingly runs out of validity. Research in the CAM field is intensively conducted across the globe from China to India to Europe to the United States.

This paper presents two case studies from Germany and South Africa that illustrate the ambivalent position of CAM in the health system, and thus towards health and healing, self and soul on the one hand and the economy on the other hand. The main question will be why the medical system chased out human aspects like touch, affection, soul, and time out of the (financed) medical system, not only in countries of the Global North also of the Global South? This discussions will show that both, the biomedical system as well as CAM, reveal to have religious notions.

Author:

Susannah Deane (University of Bristol)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the treatment of smyo nad - "madness" - in the Tibetan Amdo region of the People's Republic of China, where traditional relationships between medicine and religion are being challenged by societal changes and state regulations.

Paper long abstract:

The relationship between medicine and religion has often been emphasised in the Tibetan tradition, with the predominant Tibetan medical text, the Four Tantras, said to be authored by the Medicine Buddha, and with many medical practitioners traditionally also religious specialists. This relationship is illustrated particularly well by explanations of smyo nad - "madness". Described in the medical texts, and often attributed to spirit-causation, conditions related to smyo nad are more usually treated by Tibetan Buddhist Tantric or monastic practitioners than by medical specialists. Indeed, the majority of Tibetan doctors I interviewed in the Tibetan Amdo region of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 2018, argued that religious practitioners should be consulted for the treatment of these conditions, with Tibetan medicine (and biomedicine) often seen to be of limited or no use for such cases. In the contemporary sphere within the PRC, where much Tibetan medicine has been institutionalised and many people living in growing cities no longer have easy access to religious practitioners, how are these conditions managed and treated? With a minority of contemporary medical practitioners also being religious specialists, and religious activity banned in state medical institutions, some practitioners skilled in both medicine and Buddhism conduct appropriate rituals for patients elsewhere, and religious specialists continue to be in demand for the treatment of conditions such as smyo nad. This paper explores patients' and practitioners' perspectives on this topic.

Authors:

Andréa Wiszmeg (Lund University)
Kristofer Hansson (Malmö University)

Paper short abstract:

Mary Douglas' concept of pollution behaviour is used to explain and make sense of different strategies used by neurobiologists in a large-scale foetal cell transplantation trial in Parkinson's disease research, using cells harvested from aborted embryos.

Paper long abstract:

This article examines different emotional-, cognitive- and discursive strategies used by neurobiologists in a large-scale foetal cell transplantation trial in Parkinson's disease research, using cells harvested from aborted embryos. Two interviews were analysed in the light of former observations in laboratories, using anthropologist Mary Douglas' concept of pollution behaviour to explain and make sense of the findings. They indicate that the labour performed by the researchers in the trial work to transform the foetal material from trash to treasure; practically as well as culturally. The transformation process contains different aspects, of which we observed the following in the interview material: the foetal cell can be considered an object, a subject as well as an abject to the researchers handling it. As demonstrated in the analysis, it is the human origin of the cell that makes it abject and activates pollution behaviour in acts and in discourse of the researchers. We elaborate on how the marginal and ambiguous status of the embryo turns the scientists handling foetal cells into liminal characters in modern medicine. We also discuss why the use and refinement of a tissue, around which there is practical consensus but cultural ambiguity, deserves further investigation.