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Navigating the Medical Marketplace: Consuming Ayurveda in Delhi

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Basi, Mandip
This dissertation examines what is becoming of traditional medicine amongst the middle-class of Delhi following India’s transition to neoliberal market policies. My research, based on interviews, conversations, and participant observation conducted in 2004 and 2005-2007, is centred on the consumption of Ayurveda, a two thousand year indigenous medical system. Scholars who study indigenous medical and consumption tend to equate medications with medical system. However Ayurveda cannot be reduced to objects such as medications alone. Accordingly, I pursue what my urban middle-class interlocutors identified as “Ayurveda,” paying close attention to their therapeutic landscapes of health care. This medical practice is an extensive repertoire of knowledge enacted by a variety of informal and formal experts. I argue that consumption and health care practices cannot be suitably understood if one’s analysis is restricted to exchange in the formal market economy. I portray medical practice as an activity system rather than a mere assemblage of objects or technologies (p.508). I trace the materiality and relationships which enact Ayurveda across the spaces of the household, clinic, and expositions. The household is a site for consumption, which takes place along non-market pathways. Members use their domestic network to access various unofficial practitioners who provide medical resources such as remedies and knowledge. The clinic highlights treatment as a series of activities and verbal narratives. Even as the clinic becomes more marketised, informal repertoires of knowledge continue to be produced both by the patients and practitioners in their quest for health. The expositions foreground Ayurveda as a mass-produced and modern object while relying on tropes of nationhood and authenticity to lend authority to the practice so that it may benefit from the expanding health care market. The spaces I examine are not self-enclosed; rather they are points of convergence for the objects and relationships which propagate Ayurveda in India’s medical marketplace. My project highlights the continued relevance of multiple institutions consisting not only of the market but also the state, family, and neighbourhood in enacting formal and informal health care practices for consumption.
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Thesis advisor: Pigg, Stacy Leigh
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