Emergency Contraceptive Advertising: Mediated Medical Knowledge and the (RE)Imagined “Family Planning” Project in Contemporary India

Nayantara Sheoran

Major Professor: Hugh Gusterson, PhD, CHSSWeb Design 3

Committee Members: Roger Lancaster, Timothy Gibson, Rashmi Sadana

Student Union I, #3A
May 02, 2013, 01:00 PM to 10:00 AM


This multi-sited research set in Delhi, Dehradun, and Mumbai, India traces “the circuit” of emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) advertisements as they circulate amongst women, physicians, pharmacists, advertisers, and policy makers and unpacks the socio-cultural implications of such advertising in a rapidly liberalizing State. Current literature has failed to look closely at the implications of mediated medicine and pharmaceutical advertising in the global South. In particular, little to no attention has been paid to women interacting with and implicated in a pharmaceutical modernity as often depicted in advertisements in countries that are rapidly opening their markets to large-scale pharmaceutical expansions. My research highlights the paradoxes of ECP advertising, which while promising “empowerment” based on scientific modernity in the form of a pharmaceutical pills also simultaneously circumscribe that very idea of “empowerment” by attaching women’s “choices” to consumer logics and gendered moral norms. The disciplinary logics of pharmaceutical advertising aimed at women in a country like India show us how women’s lived realities shape and are shaped by larger social structures like the media, state, advertising industry, pharmaceutical companies, and global capital.

The dissertation does not question the viability, efficacy, or even the important need of ECPs for women. This is undeniably a need and should be made available to women. Rather, the dissertation focuses on advertisements for ECPs, inanimate objects as they may be, and how they carry within them the capacity to veil serious structural inequalities in the health and the contraceptive world women in India occupy. Addressing recurring questions about mediated medicine, politics of reproduction, and the visual manifestations of neoliberal aspirations in India, the research contributes to conversations in cultural studies, critical communication studies, anthropology (medical, visual, and feminist) and science and technology studies. 

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