Globalizing systems of knowledge : the growth and spread of ayurvedic medicine

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2001-08

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Fincher, Warren Kelley

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Abstract

The sociological literature on globalization typically falls into one of two general theoretical dispositions: privileging globalization primarily as a material phenomenon or as an ideational one. This study provides a discussion about using a sociology of knowledge approach to blend these two approaches. Taking a case study approach, this investigation grounds the theoretical concerns in an empirical study about the development and cross-cultural proliferation of Ayurvedic medicine, a medical system indigenous to South Asia. Central to tracing the development of Ayurveda, the study articulates the historical influences on the practice of the medicine under British colonialism and the impact of Ayurveda's postcolonial reestablishment in the setting of a cultural conundrum of the postcolonial predicament, the simultaneous acceptance and rejection of modernity and Westernization. The analysis reveals that the cultural interaction between Ayurveda and Western allopathic medicine has impacted the practice and theory of both Ayurvedic and modern medicine. In presenting this argument, this study investigates the essential sociological elements of Ayurvedic medical knowledge and the precolonial methods of practice, the nature and of holistic healthcare systems and philosophy, the epistemological and institutional development of Ayurveda in postcolonial India, and an overview of the institutional structure of Ayurvedic practice, education and research in the United States. The evidence indicates that Ayurveda in postcolonial India serves as an alternative to modern allopathy while concurrently adopting many characteristics of modern science. Within the Western context, the increasing use of holistic medicines are in part a reaction to the shortcomings of modern science and modernity, acting as a point of critique and a means of complementing modern allopathy. The diversity of American medical organizations display a divergence of approaches to incorporating Ayurveda into the complement of American healthcare: blending of medical traditions into one system; the bridging of multiple, discrete medical systems; coopting Ayurvedic knowledge for use within the modern medical system. The implications of this study rest upon the reinterpretation of Ayurveda in both the postcolonial South Asian and contemporary American contexts as illustrative of a collaborative relationship between modernity and tradition and the significance in explaining the globalization of knowledge systems.

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