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Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: News



Kinship, Chronic Illness and Responsibility of Care Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology, Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh December 5, 2019

Abstract submission deadline: September 7, 2019

Acceptance date: September 14, 2019

Confirmed discussants: Janet Carsten, Jacob Copeman and Ian Harper.

Contact: Emilija Zabiliūtė (

Over the last few years, new anthropological studies have returned to explorations of how experiences, politics and practices of health and illness are linked to humans’ relational modes of being in the world. A common feature organizing these studies are conceptual, empirical, explicit and implicit questions about care. Shared ethics of belonging and obligations towards family guide reproductive choices (Gammeltoft 2014). Among those excluded from institutional care and marginalized economically, “illness resides in the network of relations and movement of institutions” (Das 2016 p. 104). Clinical orders and therapeutics are also governed by knowledge and ethics of kin, rather than solely biomedical protocols (Chua 2012; Pinto 2014; Venkat 2017). Among kin, care is enacted in multiple ways, from practices of consumption and credit, to the embodied, quotidian and ritual practice (Han 2011; Aulino 2016).

These intersections of relational kin care and care for chronic conditions are not uniform, and their manifestations depend on global health politics and economies, as well as gendered and socio-economic inequalities (Garcia 2010; Das 2015). While in some institutionalized contexts biomedical care turns to “knowledge of living” that involves governance of family life and care (Wahlberg 2014) in contexts where resources and access to healthcare are scarce, there are often few other opportunities for survival and improvement of health than relying on family care. The absence of both, family and institutional care, allows forms of  abandonment (Biehl 2005).

This workshop invites anthropologists who examine kin and relational care among patients with chronic conditions across diversity of social, cultural, economic, humanitarian and institutional contexts. Care, understood as a relational and ethical/moral practice (Black 2018) informs practices and ethics of kin and relatedness. Indeed, care can be definitive of relatedness and kinship (Borneman 1997). Situating the exploration of ethics of care alongside the inquiry to kinship furthers the inquiry beyond the normative designations of kinship as “good” (Carsten 2013). Critical examination of care exposes not only “moral striving” (Zigon and Throop 2014) for the good of others, but also conflicts, demands, and injustices underlying kin and relatedness.

Chronic illness demands extensive care in patients’ everyday lives, and often redefines what it means to be a person, a family member and a carer. It reorganizes subjectivities, affective and embodied intensities of familial relations in patient’s everyday lives, and their temporalities. It calls into attention the responsibilities of care and their transformations. Borrowing Levinas’ notion of responsibility as an ethical orientation of subjectivity towards the others, the workshop invites papers to reflect on the ways in which care for chronic illness challenges, reinforces and shapes the modes, practices and ethics of kinship and relatedness. The concept of responsibility here serves to interrogate the ethical orientations of intimacy, relationality and its infinity, and obligation in lives of families with chronic conditions. It also allows to explore how families navigate the normative moral and medical regimes eliciting responsibilities amidst chronic suffering.

This call invites participants to contribute with papers drawing on ethnographic fieldworks across diverse regions and settings, both in the Global North and the Global South. The participants will be asked to circulate the papers in advance. Please submit your abstract of no more than 400 words to Emilija Zabiliūtė ( by September 7, 2019.

Participants will be partly refunded for travel/accommodation costs


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