“We are the living dead”, or, the Precarious Stabilisation of Liminal Life in the Presence of CKDu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines how everyday encounters with kidney disease treatment in Sri Lanka’s dry zone generate distinct space-times of liminality. Building on work that explores the alternative coordinates of biopolitical intervention, I argue that health improvement schemes in the dry zone yield complex materialisations of “living death” in conditions of austerity, poverty, and aridity. Specifically, I illustrate how intervention reconfigures body-ecologies, dismantles infrastructures of liveability, and re-works relations between life and time in order to stabilise liminal forms of existence. Drawing on 15 months of ethnographic data, I describe two space-times of liminality that emerge through experiences of treatment: the “zombie” and “life in the bubble”. As part of my analysis, I document how these bodily states are ambiguously configured by experiences of care. Across these encounters, I illustrate how patients toggle back and forth between states of debility and capacity in ways that blur boundaries between life/death and bodies/environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1965-1985
Number of pages21
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am indebted to the residents of Padaviya and Sri Pura who graciously opened up their homes and shared their lives with me. This paper sought to illuminate their persistent and pragmatic attempts to make life otherwise in the shadow of kidney disease. My writing process was encouraged by the thoughtful comments of four anonymous reviewers, as well as by constructive feedback from Aparna Parikh, A. Marie Ranjbar, and Jen Sedell. Thanks for pushing me to clarify and sharpen my ideas. Finally, much gratitude to Kiran Asher for her guidance, encouragement, and constructive feedback during the revision of the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author. Antipode © 2022 Antipode Foundation Ltd.


  • biopolitics
  • debility
  • dry zone Sri Lanka
  • health geography
  • liminality
  • mystery kidney disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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