Culture and Carelessness: Constituting Disability in South India

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Staples (2012) 17.385044, 78.486671 Staples, J. (2012). Culture and carelessness: constituting disability in South India. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 26(4), 557–574. doi:10.1111/maq.12007


Professional and lay explanations of disability, collected via interviews and participant-observation during fieldwork in Hyderabad, South India, identify “carelessness” and “superstition” as major impediments to good health among the general population, and education as the key solution. In that such findings suggest a valorization of personal responsibility for self-care, the Foucauldian concept of biopower appeared a salient framework for analysis. Although illuminating, however, biopower was ultimately inadequate for explaining what emerged, on closer analysis, as significant discrepancies between assumptions about how disabled people engaged with healthcare services and their actual beliefs and practices; and between the moral interpretations different stakeholders made of “carelessness” in describing perceived causes of disability. My data also suggested that education was not in itself a key determinant in people’s healthcare decisions. This article explores these differences between official and demotic discourses concerning the causes of disability and attempts to account for them ethnographically.

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