I am interested in connections between the body and its environments in urban India.
My first book is entitled Metabolic Living: Food, Fat, and the Absorption of Illness in India (Duke University Press, May 2016, read introduction here). As India becomes increasingly portrayed as the site of a shift from infectious to chronic disease burdens said to accompany economic development, my research explores the phenomenon of metabolism as an ethnographic, biomedical, and political rubric. With India’s rising rates of obesity and diabetes as its backdrop, Metabolic Living examines relationships forged between food, fat, the body, and the city of Mumbai. The book draws on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Mumbai’s home kitchens, metabolic disorder clinics, and food companies, to better understand what have been termed India’s “diseases of prosperity.”
My current research project continues my interest in recursive body-city relations in Mumbai. It is an ethnographic study of road and railway injuries and of trauma surgery, with an aim to understand traffic as an embodied aspect of city life. This research is supported by a CAREER Award (Faculty Early Career Development Program) from the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Program. In the context of urban density and crowds, the research examines how traffic is somatic and a problem for medicine to solve in circumstances of traumatic injury. The central sites of this research include, first, the trauma ward of a large public hospital in central Mumbai. Through detailed case studies that unfold across the injured, their families, the ward’s staff, and the overlapping specialties of surgery and intensive care, I am tracking encounters that call into question any easy separation of traffic in the city from traffic in the ward. Second, in one specific neighborhood, I am collecting oral histories of specific accidents and traffic patterns, reflections on the safety and danger of specific roads, how residents have witnessed the transformation of transport, and the cases of several residents who themselves step into busy intersections at rush hour to direct traffic as a proxy to a strained police force. Across these sites and others, I am interested in how moving through the city transports people between living and dying.
My earlier projects have examined the development of corporatized medical care in Indian cities and its manifestation as medical tourism, and the politics of language in India’s HIV treatment clinical trials.
I situate both my research and teaching at the interdisciplinary intersections of medical anthropology, South Asian studies, science and technology studies, global health, and food studies. Prior to anthropology, I studied linguistics and global public health, and worked on reproductive health and HIV policy.