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Asymmetrical Conversations

Asymmetrical Conversations: Contestations, Circumventions, and the Blurring of Therapeutic Boundaries

Harish Naraindas
Johannes Quack
William S. Sax
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Asymmetrical Conversations
    Book Description:

    Ideas about health are reinforced by institutions and their corresponding practices, such as donning a patient's gown in a hospital or prostrating before a healing shrine. Even though we are socialized into regarding such ideologies as "natural" and unproblematic, we sometimes seek to bypass, circumvent, or even transcend the dominant ideologies of our cultures as they are manifested in the institutions of health care. The contributors to this volume describe such contestations and circumventions of health ideologies, and the blurring of therapeutic boundaries, on the basis of case studies from India, the South Asian Diaspora, and Europe, focusing on relations between body, mind, and spirit in a variety of situations. The result is not always the "live and let live" medical pluralism that is described in the literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-309-3
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction. Entangled Epistemes
    (pp. 1-25)
    Harish Naraindas, Johannes Quack and William S. Sax

    Most people’s understandings of the body, their models of health and disease, their ideas about appropriate modes of treatment, and their assumptions about the right places to get such treatment seem quite natural to them. They regard such ideas as rational and scientific (though often imperfect) responses to disease, as divinely sanctioned paradigms for understanding illness and acting upon it, or simply as “the way things are,” and as such, they rarely question them. But the social sciences and especially the medical humanities—disciplines like medical anthropology, history of medicine, and cultural psychiatry—teach us that such ideas are not...

  4. Chapter One Medicines of the Imagination: Cultural Phenomenology, Medical Pluralism, and the Persistence of Mind-Body Dualism
    (pp. 26-55)
    Laurence J. Kirmayer

    The colonialism that spread Western medicine throughout the world generally saw other medical systems as primitive and crudely empirical, or else as thoroughly irrational, based on magic and superstition. Western medicine claimed to be grounded in science and represented one of the chief fruits of Enlightenment rationality. Traditional systems of healing were marginalized or studied as curiosities that might be mined for ethnobotanical knowledge or to reveal the social and psychological functions of ritual and symbolic action. This epistemological divide was gendered, racialized, and hierarchical, with northern European male styles of explanation, justification, and comportment the explicit standard against which...

  5. Chapter Two Porous Dividuals? Complying to a Healing Temple (Balaji) and a Psychiatric Out-Patient Department (OPD)
    (pp. 56-84)
    Johannes Quack

    How many people become possessed by a spirit, deceased relative, god, or goddess in the out-patient department (OPD) of a psychiatric clinic in India? In the course of my ethnographic research at a hospital in a North Indian city I neither saw nor heard of such a case. Patients (and their relatives) did not mention such practices in front of the doctor, although they did tell me later in interviews that possession is central to their experience of suffering or to their help-seeking behavior outside the biomedical realm. The psychiatric setting as I observed it “asks for” behavior that is...

  6. Chapter Three Medical Individualism and the Dividual Person
    (pp. 85-117)
    Francis Zimmermann

    Patients who present with cancer or infertility like the ones mentioned above—among other possible examples since all patients are confronted to the same dichotomy when presenting with any serious complaint—have two basic options for treatment corresponding to two conceptions of themselves and their future. The first option and the most conventional treatments are technologies like in vitro fertilization or chemotherapy. Another option consists of a wide range of alternative therapies, from the use of herbs and nutritional supplements, to psychic therapies, rituals, and meditation. There is an obvious asymmetry between these two basic options. Conventional medicine, backed by...

  7. Chapter Four My Vaidya and My Gynecologist: Agency, Authority, and Risk in Quest of a Child
    (pp. 118-161)
    Harish Naraindas

    For most urban women worldwide, the default mode for a birthing experience is a hospital. In the Euro-American world, birth in a hospital is nearly universal, and only about 3 to 4 percent of births occur outside its portals in two of its largest economies, namely, the United States and Germany.¹ In urban India, especially in its large metropolises, the numbers are even higher, with cities like Madras (now Chennai) registering an impressive 99 percent of institutional deliveries, either through sub-health centers, primary care centers, district hospitals, or tertiary hospitals (Padmanabhan 2008).² The hospital is the sine qua non of...

  8. Chapter Five Davā and Duā: Negotiating Psychiatry and Ritual Healing of Madness
    (pp. 162-199)
    Helene Basu

    Pilgrims approaching thedargāh(shrine) of the popular Sufi saint Mira Datar in northern Gujarat are today greeted by posters along the main road showing folded hands, a flame, and images of tablets and a syringe, with the wordsdavāandduā(medicine and prayer) below in Hindi. The posters announce the presence of psychiatry at a pilgrimage site widely reputed for aiding persons afflicted with madness and negative possession. Following recent government reforms, the shrine has become an experimental site for introducing a new program of mental health care services at the grassroots level. Early in my fieldwork, the...

  9. Chapter Six A Healing Practice in Kerala
    (pp. 200-236)
    William S. Sax and Hari Kumar Bhaskaran Nair

    Although contemporary modernization theory has its roots in Enlightenment ideals of progress, for most social scientists it began with Marx and Weber, both of whom believed that they were seeing unprecedented changes in their respective socioeconomic environments. A central idea for them, as well as for most of those who developed their ideas further, was that modernity was something utterly unprecedented in human history, a new form of human experience brought about by novel forms of industrial production, by the development of scientific rationality, and by the application of technology. Of critical importance for this process was the gradual secularization...

  10. Chapter Seven Ayurveda in Britain: The Twin Imperatives of Professionalization and Spiritual Seeking
    (pp. 237-260)
    Maya Warrier

    This chapter examines the role of what is currently the single most important Ayurvedic professional body in the U.K., the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association, to ascertain the effects of professionalization on Ayurveda in Britain. This Association (henceforth “APA”) came into being in 2005 in response to the British government’s move to introduce statutory regulation of Britain’s CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine)¹ sector. In the years since its inception, the APA has grown to become the largest and most influential association of Ayurvedic practitioners in Britain. My aim here is to explore the extent to which the APA’s efforts to professionalize Ayurveda...

  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  12. Index
    (pp. 265-270)