Old Well

Jocelyn Lim Chua

Assistant Professor, Anthropology; Faculty Advisory Board

Jocelyn Lim Chua’s research examines how globalizing psychiatry endeavors to systematically reshape human capacities for living. She is interested in how psychiatry’s relational forms of knowledge and practice produce, evaluate, and operate upon particular understandings of subjectivity, social change, and family life. She explores the ways bodies, emotions, and intimacies are assessed and managed by, but also problematize, psychiatric modes of knowing and acting.

Her first research project examined expert and vernacular efforts to make sense of and intervene into an unfolding suicide epidemic in Kerala, south India. Once widely celebrated as a development miracle, Kerala was well-known among development and public health scholars for its progressive social indicators including low population growth and high literacy rates. More recently, however, Kerala has earned the new distinction as the nation’s so-called suicide capital, reporting the highest rates of suicide and family suicide in India. Drawing on three years of anthropological fieldwork spanning a decade in Kerala’s capital city, my book In Pursuit of the Good Life: Aspiration and Suicide in Globalizing South India (2014, University of California Press) examines how Keralites account for suicide in ways that extend beyond individual psychiatric illness to implicate broader political, economic, and social developments in the region. Many construe the contemporary suicide crisis to be, not an aberration on the path to modernity and development, but rather the bitter fruit born of these collective struggles and historical trajectories. In this book, she explores how mental health experts and everyday people endeavor to heal a problem that they understand and experience as being deeply political, historical, and social in nature. Suicide and suicide prevention in Kerala offer powerful windows onto the experiential dimensions of development and global change in postcolonial India.

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