Caring for Premature Life and Death: The Relational Dynamics of Detachment in a NICU

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on fieldwork in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Chiang Mai during 2010 and 2012, I examine neonatal care as a contingent entanglement of technological and ethical relationships with vulnerable others. Along the continuum of universal antenatal and delivery care, neonatal medicine becomes a normative part of reproductive health care in Chiang Mai. As the NICU opens its door to sick newborns whose belonging to kinship and the nation-state is uncertain, neonatal care requires deliberate practices to incorporate them into life-sustaining connections. By tracing medical staff’s effort to be accountable to their fragile patients, I show that withdrawing of intensive care is relational work that requires affective involvement and distancing through commensality, prosthetic extensions, and karmic network. This specific mode of care, which is premised on the combination of unconditional openness and careful detachment, offers insight into a possible enactment of hospitality within biomedical institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)560-571
Number of pages12
JournalMedical Anthropology: Cross Cultural Studies in Health and Illness
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Taylor & Francis.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology


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