Margins/Thresholds: Health Practices, Resources and Governance in India

Investigator(s): Dr. Guy Attewell
Start date: 2013
Axis 1. of the Social Sciences Department /

The project aims to develop cross-disciplinary studies within the ambit of Medical Humanities in India. It is funded by the Wellcome Trust Indian Progamme Awards in Medical Humanities.

Researchers contributing to this project examine contingencies and asymmetries of medical practice in India from historical and anthropological perspectives.  The spatial metaphors that cohere the project thematics – margins and thresholds – signal positions ‘at the edge of’, ‘ in-between’,  ‘of entry and departure’ and liminality. 

They focus analytical attention on the historically contingent lived-environment dynamics at play in processes of inclusion/exclusion, contestations of expertise, and negotiations of contextually appropriate and accessible treatment. These studies delineate some of the various investments that have been made in the ‘modern’ medical and what is at stake for the many actors involved. At the same time, they suggest how illness and treatment have been translated and reconfigured in complex ways that defy straightforward classification, while undermining such prevalent binaries as modern/traditional and the culturalist assumptions on which they are founded. Through attention to asymmetries, limits and crossovers, they pose a challenge of how to think ‘medical pluralism’ in India.

There are four research projects conducted at present:

  1. Therapeutics for injury and pain (Guy Attewell)
  2. Health services in the Marathwada region of north Deccan (Bina Sengar)
  3. Type 2 Diabetes in Chennai (Haripriya Narasimhan)
  4. Psychiatry, ritual healing and mental health in Gujarat (Shubha Ranganathan)

The Margins/Thresholds project is part of a Medical Humanities research network in India, which includes IIT Madras, the University of Calcutta, NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) – Bangalore, supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Materials and methods:

One of the specificities of Margins/Thresholds is that it brings together researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, who employ different methods and approaches in their research. Bina Sengar is a specialist in regional history, Guy Attewell is by training a historian of science, technology and medicine. Haripriya Narasimhan is a medical anthropologist; Shubha Ranganathan is by training a psychologist, who employs ethnographic methods.

Intensive fieldwork, surveys, ethnographic methods of participant-observation, archival and documentary research are some of the key methods employed by researchers on the project.

External team members:
  • Dr. Bina Sengar, History, Dr. Babasaheb Ambdekar Marathwada University, Aurangabad
  • Dr. Haripriya Narasimhan, Anthropology, IIT Hyderabad
  • Dr. Shubha Ranganathan, Psychology, Anthropology, IIT Hyderabad
Main outputs:


Project presentations:

– January 4-7, 2013: Rural South Asia Conference, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad

– March 27-30, 2014: “Margins and thresholds of the Medical in Contemporary India” Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Philadelphia

– June 27-29, 2014: “State, Stigma and Society: Rethinking Disease in a Global Age” International Conference, University of La Trobe, Melbourne


– Duration: 5 years
– Funding Agency(ies): Wellcome Trust (UK)