Open Access

Pain’s Records: An Anthropological Account of Medical Documentation in South Asia


The Institute for Pain Management in Kolkata, like other modern institutions, is organised by record keeping. But the central object of its records, pain, presents a fundamental challenge to documentation. Pain is marked by a non-relational attribute that limits attempts to communicate and express it. I follow the institutional life of one patient and his struggles with health care through his documentary productions. As the paper traces clinical management of his pain, a proliferation of medical records is revealed. The forms of this documentary multiplicity, its materiality and how it enacts pain’s therapeutics are described. The challenge of pain’s communication is addressed by translating a body in pain constituted through artefacts and intersubjective relationships to a body in pain that exists almost entirely on paper. This translation proves efficacious in the eyes of doctors and patients, and is critical to the management of chronic pain in Kolkata.