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Reviewer Meets Reviewed - Bodily Practices and Medical Identities in Southern Thailand
Thursday 20 October 2011
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Bodily Practices and Medical Identities in Southern Thailand

Thursday 20th October 2011 at 10.00 am (tea & coffee served from 9.30am)

Centre for Anthropology, British Museum


The British Museum’s Centre for Anthropology, in collaboration with the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), is delighted to present a discussion between Dr Claudia Merli author of ‘Bodily Practices and Medical Identities in Southern Thailand’ and Alyson Brody who reviewed the work for the JRAI.

This study explores contemporary practices concerning women’s and children’s bodies, with a special focus on postpartum practices, the treatment of the afterbirth and its cosmological dimensions, and male and female circumcision. At the intersection between traditional midwifery and modern medicine, Muslim women cross the boundaries between different cosmologies and medical systems. At the borders to Malaysia, the Muslim minority in Thailand upholds postpartum practices which have been abandoned by the Thai Buddhists in the region, making of the body a contested site of powers and identities. Traditional midwives are pressured to limit their practices to rituals and massage. The increasing use of medical technologies in the form of Caesarean section and modern contraceptives are perceived as leading to changes in the local ethnophysiology of female bodies. The fluidity once characterising pre- and postpartum bodily states, has turned into an infertile rigidity exemplified by metaphors of a hardened body. In official discourse a sharp line is drawn between outdated tradition and medical modernity, at the same time as ethnic-religious borders between Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists are erased with the disappearance of old practices and the emergence of new Muslim identities and rituals. Prodigious events and pregnancy losses led in the past to the formation of spirit cults managed by female mediums and represented a means of communication between Muslim and Buddhist lifeworlds.

Bookings/enquiries: Ted Goodliffe (