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Chronic Illness in a Pakistani Labour Diaspora book jacket View Table of Contents and Introductory Material
ISBN978-1-61163-832-5
e-ISBN978-1-5310-0973-1

Chronic Illness in a Pakistani Labour Diaspora

by Kaveri Qureshi

Forthcoming July 2019 paper

Tags: Anthropology, Ethnographic Studies in Medical Anthropology Series, Medical Anthropology


Chronic Illness in a Pakistani Labour Diaspora documents the epidemic of chronic illness that afflicts Pakistanis in Britain. Drawing on fieldwork carried out over a decade, it shows how the structures of race and class into which postwar immigrants were incorporated upon their arrival in Britain left a legacy of untimely and unjust chronic illness that has persisted and become even more entrenched over time and generations. The book examines how Pakistani people have made sense of this epidemic and how it has affected families, households and livelihoods. It looks at the moral imagination chronic ill health inspires about responsibilities towards others, safety nets and care. Finally, in this context where carers so often also suffer ill health, the book examines the ethics of patience and waiting for divine intervention. Bringing diaspora studies together with the anthropology of global health, the book unravels the layered distress of everyday life lived with chronic illness.

"Kaveri Qureshi’s study of chronic illness is a smart, searching and empathetic social history of ‘the struggle of living and getting by’ among Pakistani communities in East London. Avoiding caricature and parochialism, Qureshi has slowly gathered neglected stories that uniquely convey the complexity of how all sorts of injustices—of colonialism, back-breaking labour, cultural prescription, gender inequalities and racism—dwell in bodies. The provocation of encountering lives put in such careful relation to larger and intimate contexts, and that may otherwise exist as disparate fragments, is more than scholarly. The beauty of the book is that it lures us into noticing what we so often can’t bear to see or think about: social injustice and inequality hurt. It is through this eerie recognition that the politics of care as social and interpersonal responsibility and maintenance surfaces. A vivid and arresting book that is a major contribution to expanding and refining how we think about multicultural living." — Yasmin Gunaratnam, Reader in Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

“Weaving history with ethnography, this book offers a renewed understanding of the social production of illness.  Social history marked with structures of class and race is deciphered, recounted and lived by the Pakistanis in East London as they embody premature ageing and deaths due to chronic illness. The narratives in the book powerfully depict how chronicity unfolds not only in its individual biological manifestations of diabetes, hypertension and stroke but persists as a group phenomenon across generations. Highlighting the methodological usefulness of diaspora studies, the book is a timely contribution to further our understanding of the pathways through which inequalities are embodied among the Pakistanis as migrants and a minority group. The book deserves acclaim for its theoretical, methodological and empirical advancement to the study of chronic illness and health inequities.” — Arima Mishra, Professor of Medical Anthropology, Azim Premji University

“This brilliant and empathic ethnography reveals how immigrants suffering from poverty-related illnesses reckon with their tragic circumstances of dying too young. Kaveri Qureshi tells gripping stories of the lives of Pakistani migrants in East London, whose health deteriorates with each passing year in their new country. By illuminating the embodied effects of chronic racism, the book makes a powerful case for treating non-communicable illnesses as social illnesses. It is a book that should be read by anyone who wants to understand how ethnic injustice works its way into bodies—and how to tell stories that counter the intergenerational cycles of racism." — Emily Yates-Doerr, Assistant Professor in Anthropology, Oregon State University

"This book offers us an exciting perspective on 'local biologies' in the context of diasporic studies. Qureshi here outlines the very real physical problems which confront Pakistani migrants to Britain and their children. But this is also a study of the social responses to disease on the part of the British medical services and the Pakistani population itself. Poignant and gripping accounts of suffering, despair and resilience amply flesh out her theoretical perspectives and make this original volume highly readable as well as theoretically important." — Roland Littlewood, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Psychiatry, University College London


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