Redefining Boundaries and Extending Horizons
Edited By Shridevi Rao and Maya Kalyanpur
Chapter 7 Corporeality and Culture: Theorizing Difference in the South Asian Context
Sitala…referred to as “the goddess of smallpox”…was understood to be a manifestation of her personality….Smallpox was conceptualized…as a form of divine possession, and the burning fever and pustules demanded ritual rather than therapeutic responses. (Arnold, 1993, pp. 122–123)
The concept of smallpox in colonial India described in the quote raises a fundamental but rarely asked question: How is disability conceptualized in India? Taking this question as its central concern, the chapter first describes recent articulations on disability historiography1 that have wrestled with the problem of documenting non-Western experiences of bodily difference in a conceptual framework that is predominantly Western. Second, drawing on scholarship from medical and cultural anthropology, the chapter recommends that we attend to what studies of South Asian contexts tell us about the conceptualization of corporeality. By corporeality, I refer to Margrit Shildrick’s (2009) notion as being “not simply the materiality of the body, but the manner in which the body is experienced and lived by an embodied subject” (p. 18). The chapter argues that it is important to consider the limitations of the disability concept as propounded and debated within disability studies in order to explore the possibilities of culturally different ← 154 | 155 → conceptualizations. In effect, I recommend that the question be rearticulated so that it may be answered as adequately as possible.
This chapter aims to bring a variety of diverse anthropological inquiries of the South Asian context in acquaintance with disability conceptualization that is predominantly Western....
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