Victoria (Tori) Sheldon
Victoria (Tori) Sheldon is a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Department and the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation examines the rise of Nature Cure (prakriti jeevanam) as a practice of self-healing, a mode of public health activism, and an ecumenical discipline of renunciation in Kerala, south India. Tentatively titled, “The Varieties of Natural Experiences: prakriti jeevanam self-healing as bodily and ethical repair in the wake of Kerala’s ‘Health Crisis’”, her dissertation canvasses last-resort quests for cure in the face of rising regional chronic “lifestyle” illnesses: cancer, metabolic disorders, alcoholism, organ failure, and depression. Victoria engages with narrative phenomenology in order to unpack how patients aim to become ‘self-doctors,’ taking their sickness as sign of alienation from the organic world of plants and nonhuman animals. At health education camps and residential hospitals, patients simultaneously remedy their ill bodies, the toxic environment, and moral collapse, employing the idiom of cultivating pranashakti or vitality via unmediated connection with the five natural elements (panchabootas). This health movement occurs within the historical backdrop of Gandhi’s propagation of Nature Cure as the self-healing system necessary for Indian villagers to develop swaraj or independence against colonial rule. At the phenomenal level, Victoria’s project asks: how do the hopeful, self-directed and flexible therapeutic processes of nature cures temporally frame illness experience and rearticulate ethical and political subjectivities? At the discursive level, it examines the extent to which public narratives of moral and environmental crises renegotiate these individual quests for bodily repair.