Translators Producing Knowledge: Where There Is No Doctor in Tamil

Keywords: postcolonial translation studies, postcolonial STS, sociology of knowledge, critical global health


Where There Is No Doctor is one of the most widely used community health books in the world and has been translated into over 80 languages. This paper traces four aspects of translation in Tamil-language editions of the text, including Doctor Illaadha Idaththil and related books. First, translators choose and create language to produce a colloquial text related to, but different from, the original. Second, the translated text, as part of a genre of health writing, is edited to motivate readers to take new and different actions related to their bodies and wellbeing. Third, the success of this work is assessed by asking future readers to respond to the draft. Finally, the finished translation circulates to new arenas, influencing popular writing on health and ways of understanding the body. Analyzing the translation of a health text through the lens of postcolonial translation studies, this paper argues that the translation and adaptation of Where There Is No Doctor and the books it inspired engage translators, clinicians, and future readers in a transnational knowledge production process.

Author Biography


Lillian Walkover received her PhD in Sociology from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 2018. A sociologist of global health with an interdisciplinary orientation, she has experience conducting qualitative global health research in the US and abroad. She focuses on the production, valuation and movement of health knowledges, both globally and in the US. Her doctoral work focused on how health knowledges are produced and travel through an analysis of the translation and adaptation of "Where There Is No Doctor," the most widely used health manual in the world. This project explored translations and adaptations in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada and English for use in India, and the analysis sits at the intersection of sociology of health and illness, critical global health, and postcolonial science and technology studies. In addition, she works with the Structural Competency Working Group to use structural competency and other social science frameworks for health professions education. Her postdoctoral research at Drexel University with Susan Bell, PhD, is a study of the experiences and career paths of physicians who enter the US as refugees.


Anderson, Warwick. 2009. “From Subjugated Knowledge to Conjugated Subjects: Science and Globalisation, or Postcolonial Studies of Science?” Postcolonial Studies 12 (4): 389–400.

Biehl, João, and Adriana Petryna. 2013. When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health. Princeton University Press.

Buzelin, Helene. 2007. “Translations ‘in the Making.’” In Constructing a Sociology of Translation, edited by Michaela Wolf and Alexandra Fukari, 135–69. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co.

Census of India. 2011. “Census of India: India at a Glance.” 2011.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton University Press.

Charmaz, Kathy. 2014. Constructing Grounded Theory. 2nd ed. Sage.

Clarke, Adele E., Carrie Friese, and Rachel S. Washburn. 2017. Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory after the Postmodern Turn. 2nd ed. Sage.

Davis, Kathy. 2007. The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels across Borders. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Gambier, Yves, and Luc van Doorslaer, eds. 2010. Handbook of Translation Studies: Vol. 1. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co.

Hesperian. 2013. “Impact | Hesperian Health Guides.” April 22, 2013.

Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju. 2011. “Tamil Language | Britannica.Com.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2011.

Latour, Bruno. 2007. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press.

Morris, Meaghan. 1997. “Foreward.” In Translation and Subjectivity: On “Japan” and Cultural Nationalism, ix–xxii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sakai, Naoki. 1997. Translation and Subjectivity: On “Japan” and Cultural Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

———. 2006. “Translation.” Theory, Culture & Society 23 (2–3): 71–78.

Star, Susan Leigh. 1990. “Power, Technology and the Phenomenology of Conventions: On Being Allergic to Onions.” The Sociological Review 38 (S1): 26–56.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton University Press.

Werner, David, Carol Thuman, and Jane Maxwell. 2009. Where There Is No Doctor. Berkeley, CA: Hesperian Health Guides.

Wolf, Michaela, and Alexandra Fukari, eds. 2007. Constructing a Sociology of Translation. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co.

23 Mar 2019
Research Articles