Social Relationships and the Production of Wellbeing:
An ethnographic examination of women’s health in urban India

Research on gender and poverty in South Asia focuses on how women’s relationships make them vulnerable to poor health–whether the neglect and violence they face within the family or the unreliable patron-client relations they depend on for basic resources. Considering this vulnerability, what can women’s efforts within these relationships add up to? Drawing on 14 months of ethnographic research in one Delhi slum community, I describe women’s perspectives on the techniques they used to navigate the social relationships critical to their health–with family, neighbors, politicians, and the environment. I elaborate their arguments about how such techniques contribute to moral wellbeing. Attention to their moral selves left women with a form of wellbeing beyond the reach of those on whom they depended. Women intertwined spiritual values of asceticism and endurance with the values of mobility and citizenship endemic in contemporary urban India. In so doing, women re-interpreted the priorities that both biomedicine and social scientific experts have elaborated for their health.

Claire Snell-Rood is an Assistant Professor in Health and Social Behavior in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research explores the social dimensions of health among women living in poverty, which she has examined in urban India as well as rural Appalachia. Her book describing her Fulbright-funded ethnographic research in India, No one will let her live: women’s struggle for wellbeing in a Delhi slum, is published with the University of California Press and received an honorable mention for the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize for a significant contribution to anthropological scholarship on gender and health. Her current research focuses on the social and cultural factors that contribute to women’s mental health and mental health disparities in the rural U.S., with the goal of translating this awareness into culturally tailored interventions to improve mental health.