ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Hospital Rhythms: Bodies and Buildings


Wuttke Nora - SOAS, Anthropology, London, United Kingdom


15 – Hospitals in South Asia: Historical and Ethnographic Perspectives


 Rhythms of bodies and buildings are intimately intertwined. In this paper I take you on a sensory journey across time and space into the daily life of Yangon General Hospital, Myanmar’s most prestigious public tertiary care teaching hospital. From 2015 to 2020 I had unprecedented access, first in my role as architect for the hospital’s rejuvenation project, later as social anthropologist. During a year of intensive fieldwork on campus, I developed drawing as an ethnographic method.

In this paper I show (through words and sketches) how “bodies and buildings” are rhythmed by colonial and other airs, and how infrastructures relate and rupture healthcare. I argue for a practice based understanding of the hospital, beyond discourses of “lack” and “failure”. The ethnography animates the horizontal and vertical, past and present, entanglements of the hospital buildings and bodies of patients, staff, attendants and visitors, all striving for life on the hospital campus. On this journey, I radically rethink the hospital through its daily practices and materialities.

The hospital’s original buildings were designed and built when Burma was under administration from Calcutta. Much of the architectural influences are situated in discussions on “Indian” architecture by British colonial architects. My paper proposes a reading of hospitals through their buildings, their entanglements with today’s bodies and colonial echoes / imperial debris, combining ethnographic and historical perspective