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Tension: an ethnographic study of women’s mental distress in rural North India

Simpson, Nikita Rachel Kaur (2021) Tension: an ethnographic study of women’s mental distress in rural North India. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004322


The aim of this thesis is to examine the embodied and mental forms of distress - expressed as tension – experienced by women of the Gaddi tribal community of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India. Tension is a polysemic term used across South Asia to describe the strains and scrapes of life, similar to ‘worry’ or ‘stress’ in Euro-American discourse. Amongst the Gaddi, the term provides a unique window into the intimate, embodied experience of politico-economic and social transformation. This community has experienced a rapid shift in livelihood over the past century, from agro-pastoralism to military service or waged labour. This has been paralleled by a transformation in structures of kinship, marriage and respectability, where the breakdown of the pastoral economy has precipitated the nuclearisation of the Gaddi household, increased control over women’s work and sexuality, and rising wealth inequality between households. Drawing on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork (October 2017-December 2018), this thesis investigates tension as an expression of the hopes, aspirations, speculations and fears that women have for upward social mobility. It works towards an emic bio-moral theory of tension as an imbalance of bodily humours that index strained domestic or community relations, and hence new inequalities of gender, class, caste and tribe. By paying attention to tension as it runs along the fissures of kinship, care and exchange networks, it is also the first application of a novel analytical approach that can be used to interrogate the relationship between intersectional inequality, social change and mental distress.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Nikita Rachel Kaur Simpson
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Shah, Alpa and Bear, Laura

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