Indian Therapeutic Hierarchies and the Politics of Recognition

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Social science research on medicine in India has moved from village-based ethnographies to studies of the major medical traditions, and from a focus on indigenous folk practices to the influence of global biomedicine. This article shows how these academic trends have influenced the contemporary understanding of medical pluralism in India. The article then describes the socio-political structuring of medical plurality, by relating historical shifts in government policy on indigenous medicine to ethnographic material on ‘bone doctors’ and other subaltern traditions in north India. It highlights the role of the state as constitutive of contemporary medical pluralism and suggests how current analytical frameworks for understanding the phenomenon of medical plurality might be reconceived to better characterise shifting relations of power among professional and vernacular therapeutic forms. It concludes that concerns over the decline of subaltern medical traditions, seen in government policies and vernacular explanations alike, can be understood as intracultural narratives that are replicated in academic scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-133
Number of pages19
JournalAsian Medicine
Issue number1-2
Early online date10 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2018


  • India
  • traditional medicine
  • folk medicine
  • health systems
  • medical pluralism


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