Jocelyn Chua

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
Ph.D., Stanford University, 2009

Areas of Interest:
Anthropologies and politics of health and well-being; globalization of psychiatry; mental health and illness; politics of life and death; suicide; ontologies of the body; kinship and care; South Asia; Kerala

My research examines how globalizing psychiatry endeavors to systematically reshape human capacities for living. I am 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. I explore the ways bodies, emotions, and intimacies are assessed and managed by, but also problematize, psychiatric modes of knowing and acting.

Since 2002, my research has 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, In Pursuit of the Good Life: Aspiration and Suicide in Globalizing South India (forthcoming with The 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, I explore 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, I ultimately argue, offer powerful windows onto the experiential dimensions of development and global change in the contemporary postcolonial world.

I also have a developing interest in the preparedness responses by the U.S. military to the psychic injuries and shifting challenges of counterinsurgent warfare.

Courses Taught:

ANTH 325 Emotions and Society
ANTH 147 Comparative Healing Systems
ANTH 445 Migration and Health

ANTH 750 Graduate Seminar in Medical Anthropology
ANTH 898 States of Disorder: Self, Psyche, and Postcoloniality

Selected Publications:
2012 “The Register of ‘Complaint’: Psychiatric Diagnosis and the Discourse of Grievance in the South Indian Mental Health Encounter.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 26(2):221-240.
2012 “Tales of Decline: Reading Social Pathology into Individual Suicide in South India.” Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry36(2):204-224.

2011 “Making Time for the Children: Self-Temporalization and the Cultivation of the Antisuicidal Subject in South India.” Cultural Anthropology 26(1):112-137.


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