1st Edition

Discretionary Medicine in Pakistan Poverty, Coloniality and Health

By Sanaullah Khan Copyright 2025
    208 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book uses the notion of ‘discretionary medicine’ to explore the landscape of contemporary healthcare in Pakistan. It considers how patients frequently experience health interventions as out of touch with the suffering of everyday life, and how healthcare provisions are viewed as intrusive, corrupted, and lacking in empathy towards the sick. The study focuses on mental health, acknowledging that the experience of mental illness in Pakistan is increasingly inseparable from conditions of chronic poverty caused directly by deepening inequality. The chapters address the establishment of priorities by the Pakistani health care system in conjunction with global disease programs and investigate the misalignments between the priorities of global institutes and local expectations/realities. It is argued that the discretionary nature of medicine is caused by the remnants of colonial-era laws, which link the maintenance of public health with questions of security. This, the author suggests, frequently contributes to forms of care that are riddled with bureaucratic violence. Using a combination of archival and ethnographic research, the book offers a multi-sited and interdisciplinary perspective on healthcare, ranging from care within low-income households and neighborhoods to diasporic communities and state institutions. It will be of interest to scholars and students of medical/psychiatric anthropology, global health, and history of medicine, as well as South Asian and Pakistan studies.


    1 Medicine, coloniality and social difference

    2 Cold War Politics, bureaucracies and the birth of Pakistani Public Health

    3 Prisons, Bureaucratic violence and the Uses of Psychiatry in Pakistan

    4 Public health, punishment and chronicity

    5 Displacement, Criminalization and Health

    6 Transitory Health



    Sanaullah Khan is an assistant professor in medical anthropology at the University of Akron. Previously, he served as a lecturer in medical anthropology at Brandeis University. In the past, he has also taught medical anthropology at the University of Delaware. He received his PhD in anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. His peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Ethos, Medical History, Journal of South Asian Anthropology, Journal of Asian Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Culture and Society in South Asia and Critical Military Studies. He is also the co-editor of Globalization, Displacement and Psychiatry (Routledge, 2023).