Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 159–180 | Cite as

Abandonments, Solidarities and Logics of Care: Hospitals as Sites of Sectarian Conflict in Gilgit-Baltistan

  • Emma VarleyEmail author
Original Paper


Using data collected over nearly three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan, my paper explores hospital spaces, clinical services and treatment encounters as conduits for the expression and propagation of conflictive Shia-Sunni sectarianism. Where my prior research has investigated the political etiologies (Hamdy in Am Ethnol 35(4):553–569, 2008) associated with Gilgiti women’s experiences of childbirth during ‘tensions’, as Shia-Sunni hostilities are locally known, this paper focuses on healthcare providers’ professional and personal navigations of an episode of conflict whose epicentre was at the District Headquarter Hospital, Gilgit-Baltistan’s foremost government hospital. Through critical evaluation of the impacts of Shia-Sunni tensions on the social, administrative and clinical practices and consequences of medicine, my paper analyses the complex ways that clinics in crisis serve as zones of contact (Pratt in Profession 91:33–40, 1991) and abandonment (Biehl in Soc Text 68(19):131–149, 2001; Subjectivity: ethnographic investigations, 2007), in which neglect and harm are directed along lines of sectarian affiliation to produce vulnerability, spectacular violence and death for healthcare providers and patients.


Hospital ethnography Sectarian conflict Deeply divided societies Zones of abandonment Logics of care Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan 



I am grateful to Michael Lambek and Janice Graham for their guidance during the fieldwork on which this paper is based, and to Sherine Hamdy, Adia Benton, Sa’ed Atshan and Soha Bayoumi for their encouragement when the paper was presented at the conference they had organized, “The Clinic in Crisis: Medicine and Politics in the Context of Social Upheaval” (Brown University, 2014). I would also like to express my sincere thanks to Saiba Varma, Martin Sökefeld, Anna Grieser, Deborah Varley and two anonymous reviewers for their recommendations on the final version. Research was granted ethics approval by the University of Toronto’s Research Ethics Board (REB 12505; 2004–2005), Dalhousie University’s Office of Research Services (2010–2192; 2010–2012), and Bridge Consultants Foundation (2013). Research funding was provided by a SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship, an IDRC Doctoral Research Award, a Killam Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Anthropology Department Research Committee (Lahore University of Management Sciences).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyBrandon UniversityBrandonUSA

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