Health & Healing: An Anthropological Approach


   Introduction & Methods:

            This ethnographic study is based on the research concerning Allopathic, biomedicine and the immergence of pluralistic healing practices in company with, or counter to what some may term, Western-medicine. It explores the history and practice of various healing professionals and the meanings they ascribe to their particular praxis. The research was done from October to December two thousand and fifteen. The empirical data are derived from interviews, participant observation and survey material. Participant observation was carried out in the home of a Swedish message therapist, and the interviews were conducted in the homes of the participants in Valdosta, and Tifton Georgia, United States. A Total of four participants agreed to be interviewed and at the last moment, one declined to continue interviews. Results suggest that crossovers and commonalities are apparent within the various practices of health and health care. In this study, I trace the life histories and current events that inform these informants, and ascertain why some people may choose one health practice avenue over another, or if they choose both through the analyzation of their specific and unique discourses about the subject of health and healing. Through comparative analysis, I will explicitly display similarities and difference between the two approaches to health and healing. I have documented my data via video and audio recorder and later transcribed the information and compiled a comparative analysis between the various interviews and research records from past observations by theorists and the social investigators before me. I have interviewed various health care professionals including: Swedish message therapists, speech pathologists, pharmaceutical representative, reiki healer, general nurse, X-ray, and magnetic radio imagining (MRI) technician, all of which have shared their experience as professionals in their respective fields and as patients of various medical practices.

       Discernments and similarities between the practices and ideology of Allopathy, Homeopathy, and Holistic health may be observed in the countless articles concerning the subject of health. With this ethnographically based research project, I intended to uncover mysteries concerning how and why many westerners, particularly in the South Georgia area, seek “alternative” or holistic homeopathy over their culturally prescribed means of healthcare, allopathy Clarified are these ponderings by means of interviews, email exchange, and non-participant observation of participants and practitioners of both homeopathic and allopathic procedures. Hopefully I have acquired the necessary data to provide a well-informed basis to construct and support theories concerning the necessity to merge the practices into a total and holistically synthesized methodology. All participants in this research have declared anonymity. Extensive analysis of participant’s interpersonal variation and historical backgrounds will provide a vibrant and vivid picture of how they understand the subject of health and healing as it pertains to them. The comprehensive goal is to observe how people of various socio-economic backgrounds approach health, what variables are considered in choosing such, how various practices are performed, and a cross examination of similarities and differences in practice and attitudes. I hope this research may provide avenues of progression within the field of Western Bio-cultural medicine.

            Conventional Western, or Allopathic, medicine has achieved significant progress in preserving both the quality and longevity of life, and it is important to recognize this contribution. A worldwide vaccination program by the WHO (World Health Organization) has eradicated smallpox; insulin has enabled many type I diabetics to control their condition; antibiotics, though not without their own problems, can render potentially lethal infections harmless. There are many homeopaths who frown on the entire spectrum of allopathic medicine, though in practice, a more balanced approach is often more effective. It is unwise, for example, for an insulin dependent diabetic to discontinue their insulin, but it would be wise to consider an all-encompassing approach to their health that would include higher concentrations of plant foods in their diets and regular exercise. However, conventional medicine is a widely encompassing label, and not all conventional medicine is beneficial. While in many cases symptoms are relieved, cured, or prevented, many allopathic medicines can do a lot of harm to your body. The NCH (The National Center for Homeopath) declares, “Homeopathy is based on a rule of nature called the Law of Similars. This law states that “like cures like,” or that a medicine can cure a sick person if it can cause a similar sickness in a healthy person. The homeopath regards symptoms as the body’s healthy attempt to restore itself to balance. That is why a homeopath will choose a remedy that supports the symptoms—rather than opposing them or suppressing them as in conventional medicine. In conventional medicine medication often comes with unpleasant side effects like sleepiness and constipation, and sometimes death. With the correct homeopathic remedy, however, there are no side effects and a person is restored to health naturally.” Homeopathic and holistic approaches aren’t cure-all remedies, as we shall uncover later. I will display how western health paradigms, are factors that influence the agency of people whom seek alternatives that may be more conducive to their socio-economic status and geographical locale.


            These four participants share similar medical histories in health and healing practice. Stew, is a twenty-nine-year-old, male licensed Swedish-message therapist who has attended message therapy school in Gainesville, Florida and has been practicing message therapy since two thousand thirteen, with a therapy collective, “I am an independent contractor for a local message collective meaning; I’m a licensed message therapist with a group of other therapists. We share a building and the responsibilities of taking care of it: cleaning, paying bills, collecting, and distributing payments. I went to message therapy school, for Swedish message in Gainesville Florida; there I learned the basics. I later worked for a day spa owned by a chiropractor where I learned the tools of the trade better and then hooked up with these other therapists who had their collective already established and I’ve been there for about two and a half years now.”

            Stew like the other participants, believe, “Health is an overall wellness; I don’t want to say its anything in particular because I think it’s very important to encompass all aspects. I would like to add that it’s over all wellbeing: physically, mentally, and psychologically.” This was an over lapping theme throughout the study, these dimensions of ‘physical, mental, psychological, spiritual, which others in the study proclaimed. Inquires into Stew’s life history were made to explicate why he chose his health and healing career to discover if there were any similarities between the participants, “So I guess when I was seventeen I had just gotten out of high school and I had a pretty bad wreck where I was stopped at a sign and looked in my rearview mirror just in time to see a brand new Z71 Chevy truck going about fifty-five and didn’t stop… so uh… that hurt. I think my four-door civic went to two doors and it sandwiched me in between a jeep in front of me that was like a wall, so I got smashed pretty bad. The radiator went into my engine block, I didn’t walk well for a while at least a week or two after this happened. So I went to physical therapy, which included message and it helped a lot. Not too long after that I had a friend that went to message school in Jacksonville and he loved it. We were working together and would go down on the weekends. He graduated and was doing really well and was able to buy a car in cash, which we weren’t able to do with our crappy jobs, he was happy with his job and it just seemed like an over all good idea.” Many healers practicing various forms often become healers through there experience of pain and suffering, and develop a since of compassion for others, and often seek to help others as they associate their own experiences with the sufferer, in a way, they have ‘been there’ Tassone (2015).

            Bob is a forty-seven-year-old female who has a diverse back ground in healthcare from Hippocratic medicine, to Native-American herbalism and Ayurvedic Indian. The begging of her medical journey starts as a phlebotomist in Tift General hospital, “I started as a phlebotomist in nineteen-eighty six in a lab and there I learned a lot about all areas of the hospital, because I had to go to surgery, E.R., neonatal unity, I.C.U., maternity ward, all over the hospital so I got a lot of experience and learned a lot about those fields. Then I went to X-ray school to become an X-ray technician and then I grandfathered in as an MRI technician, in an out patient setting, not in the hospital, I did MRIs for about fifteen years. I asked her why she was interested in those fields, and what motivated her to choose a medical career, and what other healing practices had she observed. “I liked helping people, so that’s why I chose medicine. My background is in Hippocratic medicine, but I have experience with Native-American medicine, I also have experience with Ayurvedic medicine, alternative herbal medicine”.

            I asked her how she came to learn, or know these forms? I’ve always known about herbal medicine, because my daddy has been an herbalist all my life, so I grew up around not going to the doctor and instead popping a vitamin-C pill [laughs] and keep on moving, with a glass of orange juice. Daddy, and momma wasn’t one of those who took us to a doctor every time our nose was running like a lot of people do now. I was exposed to alternative forms of medicine at a very young age. I asked, How did you come to practice ‘alternative medicines’? “I was at the right place at the right time, and I got to work with a Native-American Indian chief and learned a lot of the native American ways of life as far as medicine goes, like sage cleansing, herbalism, and plant-based medicine. I think seeking on a spiritual level when I was older started me on that journey, I was about 39, it kind of pointed me into the direction of alternative medicine, and other forms of healing. I was trying to find my way on a spiritual level and trying to seek the truth. Researching a lot of other religions, I found these alternative forms of healing. I even had my own Reiki business for a while, where I would go to people homes and heal their energy fields.” Bob is what she calls a “spiritual Christian” meaning she does not proclaim and denomination of Christianity.

            Bob possessed a vast base of knowledge concerning various practices, so I asked her what she though about Allopathic practices compared to ‘alternatives’ and the practices she employed. “The healthcare system needs and overhaul, we need to take better care of our older people and we don’t, and many of them live on a very limited, fixed income I worked in the [biomedicine] healthcare system for a very long time and I think the quality of health care has decreased because it seems that more people who are practicing [biomedicine] go in it to make money and not to care for people. In that way, a lot of times you’re herded in and out a doctor’s office like you’re cattle. They charge you an arm in a leg for a twenty-minute visit. The name of the game is to get as many patients in and out as you can, that creates wealth for their position.”

Similarly, Stew had this to say, “It’s not good, I think it’s become a self-feeding machine where the government has so much invested in it and their investors have so many highly paid lobbyists and everything revolves around keeping that machine rolling at this point in time. There’s always new drugs coming out, which I mean, some of them are good and very much needed, don’t get me wrong. Meds that lower blood pressure for people, even though they should be doing other things, are still needed in some cases. The problem is they’re over prescribed way too much. Everything is just totally fucked, to be quite frank, so my thing is, every solution has come to a drug. This is people’s fault as well as the drug companies, more so that they are just ignorant to it, people just don’t have a preventative mind set as a general population in the U.S. It’s starting to switch the other way, thank god, but most of us don’t have a very good outlook on preventative care. You know attitudes like, ‘ah, well this finally went wrong, so I’m gonna do something about it’. He followed with, At first it was an economic decision, however, going through school I really fell in love with it, ‘cause you know, it really is a pretty amazing thing to be able to heal people with just your hands when they’re all so used to pharmaceuticals being pushed down their throats all the time. Drugs become the norm in the U.S. for fixing anything. It’s not preventative anymore, so like, ‘what are you symptoms, let’s put a Band-Aid on it, and move on.’ That doesn’t get down to the core or the root in most accepted medicine in the West.”

            Shiloh is forty-two-year-old female licensed speech pathologist, “My profession is a speech pathologist and I have been since nineteen-ninety seven, eighteen of nineteen years not. A lot of my practice has to do with working with patients who have cognitive issues, memory loss and health over all. About eighty-percent of our patients currently smoke, or have a history of smoking and most of our patients have anything from heart attacks to strokes, COPD, which is chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and congestive heart failure, most of our patients have at-least one of those. When you look at those stats of eighty-percent smoking rate, you can kind of tie those issues together. She describes the setting of her practice, “The setting is in the patient’s home, I go in homes that are comfortable living spaces for the patient and I go in homes that are not so comfortable, not quality living at all. When the patient is confortable they can live to the best of their ability. I actually enjoy vising their homes more; I’ve worked at some rehab facilities, speech clinics and the level of participation by the patients wasn’t as high as you would find in their own homes. I’ve also been in the school system, and hospital work where I’ve done some on call stuff. Home health I like better, because I can get to know the patient better, I feel like I can make that whole quality better, by educating them on how to be better able to take care of themselves, and being in their home you can get on spiritual level too. I feel like its just the best of both worlds, you can get in their environment and its just a more warm and friendly atmosphere to help them”.

            I asked her how people could better take care of themselves and how behavior affects health, “I think taking care of your health whether it by abstain from things like that, using vitamins, I mean I don’t, but I should [laughs], I know I ought to. I don’t like taking medicine. I like making sure that I eat well, and wash hands, versus taking something that I have to be, to be healthy. I just think sometimes in medicine, its not pure or close to nature. I don’t like putting anything in my body that may cause cancer, or have some kind of negative affect. I would rather do something healthy and safe, rather than put something in my body”. I asked her what she enjoyed about her career in health and healing, “I just love helping people. In my profession, I love being able to let he Lord work through me and help people that are sick an ill. In speech pathology, the vital cores of life are eating, and communicating and we you can eat, or swallow you can’t have a quality of life, so that’s why I love being able to get back to eating and communicating. If you can’t communicate, you verbally, its often times very hard to get the basic necessities”.

            Similar to the previous participants she held comparative views concerning Allopathic, or industrial-medicine, –Immunizations, I just despise them cause every time I have a flu vaccine I get the flu. Some people say that it not linked to autism, but I don’t believe that. Like, I have children I take care of that are autistic so I read studies about causes and they show that there is a link. A high mercury level in them and the environment is one thing I’ve learned. Like, something I’ve read are that people who live near navel bases are more prone to having autistic children; the mercury levels are higher there. Conferences I’ve been to, one near Jacksonville at the navel bases there, they say they have one of the highest levels of autism there. Even close by in Fitzgerald and Ocilla, there are high levels of arsenic in the water, and there are high levels of cancer in that area. My sister has an autoimmune disease and a liver disease that is supposed to be inherited, but no one else in the family has it. She lived in Fitzgerald for two years and found out that were she was living there was kind of like a cease-pool area and the water system was awful in that area and sewage would back up, like in Valdosta now. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville is linking her disease to environmental, because she didn’t have trouble until after she moved there. One concept of Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) is that most industrial, allopathic, and complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), including various holistic healing practices, lack an observation and inclusion of socio-economic, political, and environmental influences and they neglect these domains when developing a prognosis and administering treatment CMA also suggest a new model of political course, a Democratic Eco-socialism, which would include a holistic approach to health including, political, economic social structures, and environmental factors Baer (2002).

            The last participant, Patty is a forty-five-year-old pharmaceutical representative, and in particular, a medical salesman. I’ve been in pharmaceutical sales since two thousand-three and I’ve sold prescription medications for several different disease states heart failure, high blood pressure, acid-reflux, type-2 diabetes, high-cholesterol, COPD and asthma.

I asked him what his interests are in his career, I enjoyed sales and I was an outside sales rep. prior to getting into pharmaceutical industry and I knew some people in that field and enjoyed what they did, and even though they didn’t have a medical background they could help others by selling the medications that people needed, and put them into the hands of doctors who could directly help others. They used efficacy studies, and health studies. I like the aspect of how the pharmaceutical industry works, you know you don’t just invent a molecule and put into a pill or liquid form and start selling it, there’s a long process that costs millions of dollars to research a new medication. The majority of the pharmaceuticals these companies make and test never make it passed the tests to the public, because of safety issues, or efficacious in clinical studies, so its just put aside, and sometimes they come back to it later, they’ll shelf it and when a new break though emerges, or they’ll ditch it all together. So there’s millions of dollars in the pharmaceutical industry that never makes it passed the testing, and you really get a perspective on how all that works through this process. You can’t just invent something and start selling it, that wouldn’t be every efficacious would it [laughs]?

            He describes some of the particulars of the pharmaceutical industry. “In the United states we have one of the best approval processes for medications, so when you get a medicine that’s been through market, its been, needless to say, a battery of tests and research. The most important thing I’ve learned is that there’s a balance between benefit and risk”. He mentions negative media portrayal, “One thing apparent in the media is the idea of ‘Big Pharama’ which is a negative portrayal, that says, ‘big pharama is only out to make money’ and this and that. Specifically, through our company, we have a program to help patients who can’t afford to pay for some of the medications we offer, including Medicare patients. The parameters of who receives these medications are designed so that they will almost undoubtedly qualify. Its set up to capture a lot a few people, not just a few select. Like say if a person who doesn’t have insurance, and their income is less than thirty thousand dollars a year, they’ll pay nothing for our medications. In two thousand and eleven, just in Georgia alone, we got out something like sixty million dollars worth of medication… free, the media doesn’t pick up all that stuff”.

            He then describes the particulates of his practice, “What I actually do is, review particular doctors who have registered into a program that provides information and samples of our products and the products of our competitors, and I will call them to ascertain their typical needs for which ever kinds of medications they have registered for, and I talk with them, and try to schedule an appointment to meet with them at their office, because a part of being a salesman is showing them what we offer and why it’s the best option for their needs. This is the part I like the most, because I like people and I believe everyone is a salesman, no matter if it’s trying to convince you’re wife you need a new gun, or your kids convincing you that they need a new toy, or they want this particular food… my kids are great at sales [laughs]”.

            Complementary to the previous participants he includes, “I think health has to do with the longevity of life, the better you take care of yourself, the longer life your going to have. I think we should take care of our body’s and watch what we eat and have proper amount of exercise. I’m certainly not the best at it, I don’t have a sedentary life style, but I don’t necessarily workout either [laughs]”.


Through the observation and review of the aforementioned discourse of the participants, a similar view of “Western” industrial-biomedicine is apparent and they all seem to allude and propose and purpose the inclusion of CAM’s in practice. ‘Western’ seems a insufficient taxonomy, but has survived do to Globalization and “the influence of biomedicine on other therapies, especially with the respect to concepts, discourse, diagnostic technology, instruments, and pharmaceuticals …has affected the fundamental nature of medical integration” (Nesula 2006, 221). Similar to Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA), Nesula (2006) purposes that normative and general industrio-captialist paradigms carry over to health and healing practices. “In order to discuss the healer’s paraphernalia, one has to identify the interplay between things and social forces that manifest themselves in the field of health and healing” (Nesula 2006, 221). Local, folk practices give way to industrial-technologies and the corresponding societies encourage scientific practices accompanied by the assimilation of materiality which is often economically straining and often precludes local folk remedies from entering contemporary fields of health and healing, specifically in this case, Mysore city. Biomedicine has become the first choice of populations in Mysore and Ayurveda, their indigenous practice, has become secondary and “usually utilized because of the failure of biomedicine” (Nesula 2006, 207). Peter Worsley (1982) argues the meaning of the phrase, “non-Western medical systems” and suggests it contains pejorative and ethnocentric connotations. “Non-Western medical systems contain a built-in assumptions. First, ‘non-Western’ is a dubious concept because, historically, Western medicine has long influenced large region outside the West… [and] is either arrogant, residual ethnocentrism – merely meaning, ‘not like us’ – that has not place in anthropology, or, it implies that there is something in common between all such systems, is doubly wrong” (1982, 315). A suitable and accurate representation could be, pluralistic healing practices considering the fact these “alternative” methods are common among “Western” practices: acupuncture, osteopathy, and homeopathy, to name a few. The emergence of pluralistic practices in “Western”, or what seems to be more accurate, industrial medicine, appears to arise from the growing ambivalence towards “unquestioned authority of the doctor” (1982, 316). The taxonomy of, “western” is inappropriate and inadequate, due to the fact that the directional relationship that the term describes is merely a relative concept. If one finds their person in Japan and wishes to travel to California, surely they will not choose to fly across greater China, and Europe to get there. I purpose the definitive term; industrial in the place of western, considering the political economy of globalization and the transmission of capitalist-industrial culture to various societies. Exemplifying this, Industrial healing practices are not confined to the “west”, mastoidectomies, open-heart operations, have been conducted by Chinese practitioners routinely since 1972, via acupunctural analgesia (Worsley 1982). Various practices go hand and hand, and industrio-captialist societies ought to acknowledge the phenomena of socio-economic factors as well as the purely biological, corporeal base upon which their theories and paradigms are founded.

            Similarly, Baer (2002) reflects on Marc Micozzi (2001) and the phenomenon of interest and incorporation of pluralistic healing practices within the tradition of biomedicine and other industrial medical practices. One reason Baer purposes, is the growing apprehension and exhibited limitations of a medical system that neglects socio-economic and political causes of health status and disparity, “given that biomedicine exhibits certain limitations, a reality repeatedly mentioned by many anthropologists, indigenous and traditional medical systems need to be reevaluated in context of new theories about health and healing” (Baer 2002 403). Interest in holistic health acquired accelerated locomotion as industrial computer technologies and the Internet provided a widely accessible mainframe of data and the possibility of information sharing available to various populations on a global scale, crossing over into a contemporary collective culture of sorts. As populations of patients and healthcare professionals are becoming dissatisfied with industrial medical practices, biomedicine, newly immerging paradigms of health are beginning to appear as preceding models begin to amalgamate through the process of political economy and cultural diffusion. The American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA; established in 1978) incorporated an institutional framework to introduce complementary alternative medicine (CAM) into contemporary American society. On the macro-level, National Institutes of Health established the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) & the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM; established in 1999) (Baer 2002). Clearly, newly emerging edifices of health, which encompasses a truly holistic (mind-body-spirit-social-economic-environmental) approach to health, are becoming more centralized and widely available to the diverse and dynamic global populations.

            Dan Whisker (2013) encapsulates the phenomenon of neo-Shamanism in post-industrial societies, specifically North America, as a sort of archaic revival (Terrance McKenna 1991). He argues that religion, which can be extended to the specific practices and paradigms of health and healing, specifically shamanism in North America, is a “technology of self” that includes self-healing and self-management. Whisker proclaims, “Something happened to the concept of ‘the Shaman’; a series of transformations in Western ideas about religion, the non-Western world, our self-knowledge and our ethical projects” (2013, 345). Freud, Durkheim, Jung, and Levi-Strauss asserted through their collective study that primitive societies held functional rationalities concerning concepts of self and by extension, health. Shamanism appears to be a trans-cultural phenomenon, is a living ethical practice and not just discursive musing. “They conceive the shaman as a universal social-structural position fulfilling a necessary social-psychological function” (Whisker 2013, 346). Whisker illustrates how neo-shamanism is not a newly emerging anomaly, but a mere reconceptualization of modern people’s ambivalence towards modernity, “For Znamenski, ‘… the growing appreciation of shamanism in the West is part of increasing antimodernist sentiments, which have become especially noticeable since the 1960’s’. He sees ‘neo-Shamanism’ as repeating the romantic aesthetic of orientalist scholarship throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (Whisker 2013, 348). Overall, Whisker attributes the wide-acceptance of shamanic praxis to the discursive works of Freud, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, and Jung whom viewed shamanism as a “practical means of dealing with psycho-social [health] problems” (2013, 359).

            Concerning the political representation (Mehan 2000) of shamanism and other pluralistic healing practices which includes political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity that enforces authority and who authorizes. “Events in the world are ambiguous. We struggle to understand these events, to imbue them with meaning. The choice of a particular way of representing events gives them a particular meaning. There is often a competition over the correct, appropriate, or preferred way of representing objects, events, or people. In fact, although there are many possible modes of representing the world and communicating them to people, the course of history can be envisioned as successive attempts to impose one mode of representation upon another”(Mehan 2000,241). Shamanism and the quality of skill and practice are expressed by MD Shawn Tassone’s (2009) principle position concerning the correlation of Allopathic and Shamanic healing practices. She purposes is that they are far more similar than previously acknowledged among the Western scientific community, particularly the training and practice rituals included. The two approaches are parallel in the sense that they encompass rigorous stages of initiation, education, and practice of their medicine. “Education received by medical students is similar to shamanic training: it takes place over many years and there are tests and rites of passage,” claims Tassone (2009). The allopathic healer must complete many ceremonies and rituals similar to a shaman. Ritualistic education, evaluated by elders in an operating suite, where patients are often instructed to fast and as a result of strenuous work schedules, the allopathic healer inadvertently fasts, similarly to the shaman. Concerning the operating suite, spatiality is similar in both paths of healing. The patient is positioned in the center of the room and often advised to maintain a ritual position. In the allopathic environment, the room is continuously sanitized and the medical resident in training dons traditional garb and surgical gown as a ritual practice. The initiates of both schools must assimilate the elder’s behavior and practices likewise to be recognized and valued in their respective communities. Surely research such as this shall be a vehicle of the paradigm shifts necessary in western ethos to incorporate holistic approaches to allopathic practice.                                                     Tammy Kim (2015) reports the undeniable phenomenon of expansion and progress as well as assimilation of Eastern holistic, medicinal practices into North American paradigms. Motivators for this phenomenon are related to the capitalistic and material based cultural models of health and health care practices in the within industrial-societies that are proving to be inadequate methodologically and ideologically. Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo (2015), president of the American Tibetan Medical Association and director of Medical Education at the Shang Shung institute of Massachusetts spoke about Tibetan medicine, “Its strictly a matter of medicine and culture, not politics.” According to the National Institute of Health’s 2007 report, “nearly 40 percent of adults and 12 percent of children rely on some form of alternative medicine.” Kim reports that this phenomenon is due to “47 million uninsured Americans, immigrants accustomed to ancestral methods, over-prescribed, addictive painkillers, depersonalized managed-care companies, and astronomical medical bills.” Surely, this is a synthesis of the underlying paradigms of North American capitalist, consumer culture. “Western medicine doesn’t have good answers and [people] are seeking alternatives.” Says Wangmo. Dr. Tashi Dawa (2015 a post doctorate at Emory University, expressed much of the same, “[Money] the motivation of the doctors. You take the Hippocratic Oaths but only for a few seconds, and then you treat your patients as an ATM. In [Tibetan] training, you treat your patient like he’s your son or daughter, listening to what they’re saying. Every patient is a new subject for us. Symptomatically they’re similar, but constitutionally, emotionally, they’re all different.” Interpersonal variation is a fundamental axiom, requisite of an anthropological approach to health and healthcare practices. Despite the traditional origin, an effective physician treats patients with sensitivity and altruism, which are elementary maxims of the medical sphere in its entirety. Issues arise as the modernization and commodification of traditionally used folk-remedies and healing practices reach the hands of American consumers, and even within the country of origin it’s self.       Maarten Bode (2006) describes this phenomenon through the examination of the commodification of “natural” Indian medicines (Ayurveda). This process is influenced by industrio-captialist paradigms of expanding economies and social dynamics in the production and manufacturing of healthcare products. The increase in this type of “natural” healing, arises as global markets answer the call for an alternative to biomedicine and allopathic health practices. Marketed as a natural, over-the-counter remedy against common illness, these medicines offer inexpensive options for treatment, compared to industrial, biomedicine. The expanse and increase in Ayurvedic treatments is due to industrio-capitalistic involvement with marketing, branding, manufacturing and distributing, and advertisements that sell these products with “Indianess” or Indian identity. The primary selling feature is the product’s inexpensive, attractive remedies for industrio-capitalistic illness, biomedical treatment side effects, and gigantic healthcare and hospital bills. The Ayurvedic medicines advertisements give Indians and other cultures, what they call, “their history, culture, and health. They also promote and endorse life-style changes, personal empowerment to accompany the treatment, which is not significantly emphasized in biomedical treatments. To attract consumers, Ayurvedic firms place their products in opposition to biomedical pharmaceuticals and emphasize the naturalness, commonness, and authenticity of their commodities. Manufactures claim, “Ayurvedic formulas take away the venom of Westernization and therefore make people more effectively modern”. This has a tremendous effect on North American populations as more people seek alternatives to biomedical procedures and treatment.


Healing is almost always pluralistic, as a result of the rate of globalization generated by advances in technology and communication systems. Constellations of economic and cultural forces within each dimension affect both the content and the relationship between primary, and secondary resources, and between the various practitioners, patients, and participants of local healing practices. Globalization, mediated by local and international states, structures the contents of primary medical resources, confers legitimacy to certain technologies and sets models by which the healers communicate and transfer knowledge. The political and economic dimensions of globalization informs reward systems to which states, institutions, and therapists inevitably adapt and ascribe to, shaping the flow, construction, and reconstruction of market-oriented healthcare policies, practices, as well as, socioeconomic and environmental side affects. Where biomedicine fails, or rather when treatments generate serious side effects, people may seek, in an entirely pragmatic fashion, alternatives. The theories and ethnographic data provided here would suggest that the idea of loss, imaginary or not, constitutes a self-concept of lack, which often drives the consumption of ‘alternative medicines’. New medical pluralisms claim that the weakening of biomedical authority, though it remains dominant, state legitimation of diversity of alternative therapies, and increased citizen/consumer/patient awareness and interest in ‘holistic’ healing methods of self-management have led to new medical pluralisms that are structured by the emergent configuration of relations among biomedicine, the state, and consumer/citizens (Janes 2002).


Baer, Hans A.

            “The growing interest of biomedicine in complementary and alternative medicine:   A critical perspective.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly (2002): 403-405.

Bode, Maarten

            “Taking Traditional Knowledge to the Market: Commoditization of Indian Medicine.” Anthropology & Medicine vol.13.3 (2006): 225-236.

Janes, Craig R.

            “Buddhism, Science, and Market: The Globalization of Tibetan Medicine.”Research Gate. Anthropology of Medicine, 2002 Web. 26 Oct. 2015

King, Tammy.

            “Tibetan Medicine Highlights Compassion in Modern Health Care.” Tibetan Medicine Highlights Compassion in Modern Health Care. N.p., July-Aug. 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

McKenna, Terence.

            “The archaic revival.” San Francisco: Harper San Francisco (1991).

Mehan, Hugh.

            “Beneath the skin and between the ears: A case study in the politics of representation.” Schooling the symbolic animal: Social and cultural dimensions of education (2000): 259-279.

Nisula, Tapio.

            “In the presence of biomedicine: Ayurveda, medical integration and health seeking in Mysore, South India.” Anthropology and Medicine 13.3 (2006): 207-224.

Tassone, Shawn.

            “Medical Materialism, Shamanic Healing, and the Allopathic Paradigm – Reality Sandwich.” Reality Sandwich Medical Materialism Shamanic Healing and the Allopathic Paradigm Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Whisker, Dan.

            “The Possibility of Shamanism: A Genealogy of Anthropological      Appropriations.” History and Anthropology 24.3 (2013): 344-362.

Worsley, Peter.

            “Non-western medical systems.” Annual Review of Anthropology (1982): 315-348.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s