Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Anthropological engagements with care have increasingly turned away from understanding care as a form of benevolent attention to contend with the darker side of care practices, how certain forms of attunement can become techniques for regulation, control and even harm. Thinking with and against these different configurations of care in the context of an American eating disorders clinic, this paper considers how forms of care that are ambiguous and multiplex pose their own sets of analytical, ethnographic, and ethical challenges. In the eating disorders clinic, care and attention are simultaneously figured as therapeutic tools, vectors of manipulation, and resources to be commoditized and closely regulated. Within such complexities, clinicians sometimes understand the withholding of certain kinds of care to be a supremely caring act. Clients, on the other hand, often experience such practices as actively generating harm. How do we, as care-full researchers, constructively contend with the layered and often fraught dynamics entailed in relationships of care? Centering on the story of one particular client and disagreements over her attempts at “manipulation” to solicit care, this paper explores how I—as someone who cares simultaneously about the client’s wellbeing, the clinicians’ perspectives, and the integrity of the research—became caught up in a tangle that I had to navigate in a care-full way, albeit one with lasting consequences. In so doing, it speaks to the synergies and dissonances among care as an object of study, an analytic, and an ethos of anthropological practice.