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Photo Credit: Mayank Austin Soofi

Ambivalent Kinship and the Production of Wellbeing: the Social Dynamics of Health Among Women in Indian Slums

Colloquium | February 14 | 3:30-5 p.m. | 2538 Channing (Inst. for the Study of Societal Issues), Wildavsky Conference Room


Claire Snell-Rood, Assistant Professor, Health and Social Behavior, School of Public Health, UC Berkeley

Center for Ethnographic Research, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, Department of Gender and Women's Studies, Institute for South Asia Studies


Contemporary advocates for health have endorsed widespread change through attention to the social conditions of health. Yet the large scale and policy orientation of this approach are unconcerned with how women negotiate their social relationships every day. Guided by new anthropological approaches to kinship, I examine women's relationships with family, community, state, and the environment through ethnography in a North Indian slum. While relationships were necessary channels to obtain the stuff of survival, women remarked on their hidden consequences. Haphazardly played, relationships yielded disastrous effects on social reputation, piled on long-term obligation, and whittled away one’s self-respect. Women could be left with no one to depend on and no moral reserve to sustain themselves. What was in their hands, they explained, were the boundaries they drew within relationships to maintain their independence and their capacity to define their meaning. This ethnographic approach re-appraises the social scientific and health literature on patron-client relationships, social support, and family exchange, while introducing a new social lens to approach wellness.


cer@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0813