Death in the Time of Saving Lives: Cholera Research and Humanitaran Governance in Bangladesh Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Kamal, Saydia
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • “Histories of cholera exist in a reciprocal relationship with science. Knowledge of cholera is changing quickly; new findings invite a new history, which will feed back on how we think about cholera in the present.” So Christopher Hamlin (2009) concluded in his historiographical account of cholera as a disease with global ramifications. The discussion and analysis presented in this dissertation substantiates Hamlin’s hypothesis, additionally developing a particular account of cholera in Bangladesh. The scientific advancement in the understanding of fluid loss in a cholera patient and the discovery of a rehydrating solution slowly changed public perception of the disease in Bangladesh. A massive nationwide campaign to disseminate this new knowledge chased away the fear of death from cholera and diarrhea. This dissertation offers a new history of cholera, charting its descent into the realm of the ordinary in Bangladesh. Despite a significant decline in the incidence of cholera cases, the scientific gaze and governmental attention in Bangladesh continue to focus on the disease. Recognizing cholera prevention programs as fetishized objects of national and transnational attention, this dissertation shows how facts of cholera and diarrhea––their incidence and prevalence–– have historically dominated public health missions of Bangladesh, creating the categories of preventable death and savable lives. Cholera research and prevention programs do not sanctify human life in general; rather, they selectively fulfill a right to live only when the life saved fits within the purview of regimes of global health, and so could reflect on the state and non-state actors’ performance as managers of life. In what follows, this dissertation examines the way these programs operate as an infrastructure of distributing governmental attention and resources rather than as a system of providing more comprehensive care for the people in poverty. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Shatnal (Chandpur, Bangladesh) and the intimate realities of public health there, including everyday stories of living and dying and the extensive social vocabulary used to describe cholera and other forms of death, this dissertation records the government's asymmetrical care for the dying and ill, revealing the production of inequalities between different kinds of life and death.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Redfield, Peter
  • Chua, Jocelyn
  • Ramaswami, Sumathi
  • Saunders, Barry
  • Escobar, Arturo
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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