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February 2020

Soc Sci Med. 1992 May; 34(10): 1069-76.

The cultural logic of Indian medicine: prognosis and etiology in Rajasthani popular therapeutics.

Lambert H.

Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, U.K.

This paper considers certain ways of describing and treating sickness in rural Rajasthan, and the representations of sickness and of the body on which they are based. Two indigenous medical or 'ethnomedical' perspectives on illness and its treatment emerge from the analysis of ethnographic material collected during field research in northern India. In the first part of the paper various characterizations of South Asian medicine are discussed, and I suggest that Western preconceptions about the nature and purpose of 'medicine' itself has led one of these perspectives to be highlighted in anthropological considerations at the expense of the other. A further dimension of ethnomedicine emerges through discussions of local therapeutic rituals and discourses about sickness and the body. This consideration of one domain of local therapeutics reveals its underlying cultural logic and highlights ethnomedical formulations that have heretofore been analytically neglected. It does not address the formal or textually based Indian medical traditions to any extent. It is concerned with the cultural construction of sickness and medicine among Hindu lay people and folk healers and employs folkloric material that, though rarely considered in anthropological writings on South Asia, may be fruitful guide to the meanings which sickness has for those experiencing and treating it.

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