Macquarie University
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Labouring for breath: lived experience of chronic breathlessness in rural Bangladesh

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:41 authored by Anupom Roy
This ethnography explores experiences of chronic illness in a rural Bangladeshi village, examining the factors that contribute to people’s experiences of unending illness. Anthropologists have mainly studied chronic illness in wealthy countries, or in contexts where formal medical care was readily available. However, far less ethnographic attention has been directed toward the ways individuals living with excruciating poverty experience chronic illness. This thesis examines poor people’s discourses of chronic breathlessness in rural Bangladesh, seeking to explore the lived experience of people who not only suffer from extreme poverty but also lack access to trained medical practitioners. The thesis argues that these rural sufferers of chronic breathlessness do not experience the illness itself as chronic. Rather, what dominated their illness experiences was a social situation characterised by the chronic presence of poverty, frustration, and disappointment. In this context, any illness, including chronic breathlessness, appeared as an episodic intensification or additional layer of suffering. Cultural and social norms also intensify the stigma surrounding chronic breathlessness, and this is particularly true in the case of vulnerable groups including women, the elderly, the landless, and those who lack supportive kin networks. Understanding the experience of chronic illness in rural Bangladesh demands that the illness experience is understood holistically. This means situating chronic breathlessness within the context of local cultural norms and social networks, as well as the broader local and national politics that produce a system of biomedical care that is beyond the reach of most poor villagers.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. The place and the people -- 3. Being breathless: meaning, stigma and social coping -- 4. Making sense of illness: layperson's views of chronic breathlessness -- 5. Therapeutic trajectories: rationalities and boundaries in medication consumption -- 6. Doctors of the poor: self-taught practitioners and their ethics of care -- 7. Conclusion: experience of suffering in rural Bangladesh -- Appendix


Bibliography: pages 211-238 A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy" "December 2013

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Lisa Wynn

Additional Supervisor 1

Kalpana Ram


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Anupom Roy 2013.




1 online resources (v, 245 pages) colour illustrations, maps

Former Identifiers

mq:31212 2173031