ANTH Colloquium - Harris Solomon (Duke University) "On Life Support"

Monday, November 11, 2019 - 12:00pm

3260 South Street, Penn Museum Rm 345

The presence and threat of death makes life support distinct from more everyday forms of feeding meant to cultivate life-force qualities and banal pleasures. This paper examines how resuscitation acts, their ethics, and their materializations as feeding shed light on broader issues about the connections between food and life. It is based on ethnographic research in a trauma intensive care unit in one of Mumbai's busiest public hospitals. The paper considers how injured patients, their kin, and doctors navigate the thorny state of not being able to breathe on one's own, and describes how people rely on mechanical ventilators to address this situation. Being on a ventilator is always relational. The ward has very few ventilators and demand for them is high. The closer one patient comes to death, the closer another patient comes to an available ventilator and possibly life. I explain how people experience this bind, and detail how the ventilator shapes survival economies of medicine, subjectivity, technology, and ethics.