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Vol 7 No 2: September issue

Bhabha in the clinic: Hybridity, difference, and decolonizing health

  • Carolyn Smith-Morris
December 12, 2018
June 16, 2020


Before professional diagnosis, the determination of whether one is ‘ill’ or ‘well’ rests within the patient. These moments, when sufferers (re)cognize their own bodily and phenomenological experience as abnormal or different, are critical to the positioning of healer and patient. So too are moments when diagnosed patients, struggling with a treatment regime, compromise and adjust to embrace, if only partially, disparate ideas of health. In this article, I apply Homi Bhabha’s framework of hybridity and difference to think about the perception of illness, self-diagnosis, and power in healing relationships. I consider how sufferers enact hybrid positions between their bodily perceptions and their professional diagnoses. To illustrate the utility of Bhabha’s colonial critique for health care, I examine narratives by patients with diabetes-related vision loss about: (1) first realizations that something was wrong, what Bhabha might call the ‘intervention of difference’; (2) expressed differences between self-knowledge and biomedical knowledge, corresponding to Bhabha’s ‘partial embrace’ of the colonial ideal; and (3) the self-colonizing epistemological work that compliant patients do as they re-orient their pre-diagnostic self to a post-diagnostic habitus of self-monitoring, timed medications, and other treatments. I conclude with a discussion of how Bhabha’s colonial hybridity supports a more productively contentious medical anthropology that envisions and pursues decolonized health care.