Carnegie Mellon University
pvnielse_PhD_English_2024.pdf (13.19 MB)

Decolonizing the Medical Encounter: Restorative Ethics of Care and Cared-For Subject Production in Afro-Caribbean Postcolonial Literary Discourses

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posted on 2024-05-30, 20:41 authored by Pearl NielsenPearl Nielsen

This dissertation interprets selected postcolonial Caribbean literary texts, primarily Shani Mootoo's epistolary novel, Cereus Blooms at Night (1996); Edwidge Danticat's bildungsroman novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994); and Jamaica Kincaid's memoir, My Brother (1997) arguing that these works imagine decolonial, feminist ethics of health care that give rise to liberated postcolonial figures that I call "cared-for subjects." As the literary works and historical patterns of Caribbean postcolonial health-systems management reveal, dominant Westernized views of care--which continue to affect postcolonial spaces--inherently reproduce a medicalizing, hierarchized relationship between caregivers and pathologized "patients." Unlike a medicalized patient, who is situated as a passive, pathologically "unhealthy" body-object requiring institutional caregiver intervention, a cared-for subject participates in their own care, developing and narrating their experiential, embodied, and affective dimensions of knowledge. The cared-for subject may achieve autonomy over their body; develop an unified "bodymind" sense of self; recognize their deservingness of care; and identify and contest the colonial, patriarchal, and medicalizing stigmas and forms of violence that adversely affect their health outcomes.

My project expands feminist and postcolonial critical conversations on the affordances of care for supporting and politicizing marginalized individuals' needs and experiences (including those pertaining to victims of sexual violence, individuals with psychological health detriments, and sufferers of epidemic disease.) I use postcolonial theories of subject formation, feminist ethics of care theory, decoloniality theory, and medical humanities theories of narrative care to elucidate the importance of the cared-for subject for disrupting postcolonial patterns of subjugation. These methodological frameworks enable me to situate the cared-for subject--and the ethics of care that support this subject's production--as sites of resistance against stigmatizing discourses of coloniality and postcoloniality; social and national tendencies to obscure and silence stories of violence against feminized, racialized, and poor individuals; and European and U.S. neoliberal hegemony through the necropolitical activities of the state, dominant sociomedical discources, and transnational pharmaceutical and medical institutions. I present the feminist, decolonial ethics of care as a restorative, liberatory, knowledge-producing and -validating influence for postcolonial individuals' minds, bodies, and subjectivities.




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • English

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Richard Purcell

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