Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

19 February, 2013 – ‘Imagery and Ideology: The Politics of “Asian Rickets”, 1963-1985’ Dr Roberta Bivins

All are welcome to the first event in this semester’s seminar series at the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities.

Please contact Clare Barker (c.f.barkerATleeds.ac.uk) with any queries.

Tuesday 19 February, 5pm-6pm

The Centre for Medical Humanities is located in the basement of the School of English, with the entrance in the School of English foyer.

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‘Imagery and Ideology: The Politics of “Asian Rickets”, 1963-1985’ Dr Roberta Bivins (Department of History and Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Warwick)

In the decades between 1963 and 1985, clinicians, researchers, health workers and members of Britain’s growing South Asian ethnic communities repeatedly confronted the British state with evidence of persistent nutritional deficiency among British Asians. Rickets – so often described as a ‘Victorian’ disease – became a high-profile sign of what was variously constructed as a failure of the Welfare State, or of the political parties charged with its protection, or of ignorant medical personnel (and particularly general practitioners), or of ethnically Asian migrants and their descendants to adapt to British life and norms.

Here I will argue that rickets prompted such consternation not because of its severity, the cost of its treatment, or even its prevalence, but because of the ease with which it was politicised. Using the visual and textual imagery with which rickets was surrounded and through which ‘Asian rickets’ in particular was constructed, I will explore the ways in which this condition was envisioned, defined and addressed as Britain’s diverse South Asian communities developed from migrant enclaves to settled multi-generational ethnic communities.

– Dr Roberta Bivins

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