Will the market lead to epistemological pluralism? Ayurveda in a globalising world

The project focuses on Ayurveda, an ancient yet contemporary system of Indian medicine (Srinivasamurti 1948; Keswani 1974) whose presence in the global health market provides fertile ground for our enquiry into markets and episteme. This project squarely addresses the issue of confrontation of different epistemes of the body, such as that of ayurveda and biomedicine brought about by globalization of markets. The question is how such a relation bears upon the Indian and European epistemic cultures

The burgeoning demand for cure and care for a growing range of health conditions eludes any particular system of medicine; pluralism in medical options is almost a way of life through out the world. India as the site of several medical traditions such as ayurveda, siddha and unani apart from Yoga is a key player in this area. The phenomenal growth of the herbal pharmaceutical industry, the multiple networks of government and private interests in the procurement of raw herbs and in the manufacturing of Ayurvedic medicines for export,  have called for major transformation of Ayurveda.  In this process of globalising health care, Ayurveda has to ‘adapt’ itself in order to cater to the European customer who seeks alternative cosmetics and green therapies and is required to adhere to norms laid down by the of various regulatory bodies in the EU.

My aim in the proposed study is to find out the ramifications of these changes on the practice of ayurveda at home and abroad. The study will try to find out whether ayurveda is able to create new epistemic spaces in the global arena because of its market presence or whether it will be absorbed as an herbal adjunct of mainstream medicine. This will be studied empirically in Europe and India on the basis of a common theoretical framework based on sociology of knowledge.

In Europe, this study would focus on the regulations on ayurveda and the authorities of regulation. The consumer of ayurveda will be contacted in institutional sites in selected parts of Europe where ayurvedic therapies are available. The cost of ayurvedic treatment in these sites will also be looked into. A crucial component of this study would be the strategies of health seekers: For what kinds of ailment do they resort to ayurveda and why? Which sections of health seekers opt for alternative therapies? Finally, the project also enquires into the meanings that consumers in Europe attach to ayurvedic medicine: Does ayurveda as an ‘alternative medicine’ alter European conceptions of the body and health? Preliminary field study has been conducted in Germany in April-May 2009 and will be continued in 2010 and 2011 summer.