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Title: The hungry self : biomedicine, Buddhism, and the management of craving
Author: Sury, Priya M.
ISNI:       0000 0005 0291 2609
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation imagines food attachment as a visceral and relatable manifestation of the existential craving elaborated in Buddhist philosophy. The work examines the accelerating biomedical epidemic of food-related diseases through Buddhist notions of craving, attachment, and addiction, and the potential for their alleviation. Data for this qualitative study was collected through participant-observation at two institutions in a field site: Hennepin County Medical Center and Common Ground Meditation Center in Hennepin County, Minneapolis. The results of this research establish that the biomedical response to food attachment reinforces suffering, and the Buddhist conceptual framework of craving elucidates both the perpetuation and potential for alleviation of this suffering. Overeating and its corresponding illness conditions constitute the majority of doctor visits within the clinical context studied. The demise of cultural regulators of food leaves eaters confused and stressed in their decisions about what to eat. Patients consistently turn to their physicians for advice about problematic eating, extending the jurisdiction of the medical establishment into the daily technicalities of eating behavior. Doctors, reticent to engage in these conversations to the extent desired by patients, approach food attachment problems from the interventionist frame, relying on referrals, medication, surgery, and a future-based narrative of illness and fear to motivate behavior change. Buddhist thinking, in contrast, regards food attachment as one appearance of the ubiquitous, nonpathological craving that is a predictable part of human existence. From the Buddhist framework arises myriad mindfulness-based interventions, many of which offer relief from countless symptoms, as evaluated by biomedical (empirical) metrics. However, these efforts are ultimately self-limiting. Rather than incorporating an understanding of the attention needed to root out the craving that leads to suffering (of which food attachment is merely one form), biomedicine folds mindfulness interventions into the same self-based symptom-reduction view that increases suffering in the face of chronic illness. Biomedicine reduces Buddhist practices to the smallest clinically implementable parts (i.e. mindfulness interventions). Instead, considering Buddhist frameworks for understanding craving better informs the inadequate biomedical response to food-related, and other forms of, chronic suffering.
Supervisor: Hausner, Sondra Sponsor: Rhodes Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available