Uni-Tübingen

C 06

The ResourceComplex Health and Body using the Example of Unani Medicine in South India

Academic Disciplines Cultural Anthropology
Project Management

Alex, Gabriele, Prof. Dr.
Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Asien-Orient-Institut
Abteilung für Ethnologie
Schloss Hohentübingen

Burgsteige 11
72070 Tübingen

e-mail: gabriele.alex[at]uni-tuebingen.de

DoktorandInnen und PostDocs Sieler, Roman, Dr.
SFB 1070
Gartenstr. 29
72074 Tübingen
e-mail: roman.sieler[at]uni-tuebingen.de

During the first phase of funding two case studies explored two different resources in South India: rice and medicinal plants. The focus was on the conceptualising and use of these resources within the context of different and changing ecological, social, political and economic conditions. In line with the studies of Bruno Latour, Tim Ingold and Anna Tsing, analytical approaches were developed, regarding the creation and experiencing of the value of resources as a process of interaction of humans, animate beings, objects and media under specific conditions allowing empirical studies. According to this, resources are not seen as pristine or economically defined raw materials from nature but instead as necessarily embedded into hybrid networks. The use of resources and the management of natural space related to them is reflected in the local groups’ socio-cultural systems of order: various rituals and myths of the region relate to landscapes and their relation to human beings, socio-political and ‘gender’ concepts are tightly connected to the modes of subsistence, while historical developments led to changes of these coherences and to changes in the evaluation of resources and landscapes as well. The project also elaborated how resources are embedded into social, economic and ecologic contexts and thus have to be analysed as ResourceComplexes, an interaction of different actors, including humans, but also non-human ‘actors’ like raw materials, textbooks, pharmaceuticals, research facilities, pharmacies etc.

During the second phase of the research centre the project enhances this process and system oriented approach. The focus of our interest is the role of the transfer of knowledge and traditions for the use and transformation of resources under the assumption of a mutual preconditioning and reciprocal influencing of nature and culture, as well as the question of how the ResourceComplex ‘health and body’ is changing within the context of political, religious and economic developments in South India.

Project C06 now explores how the use of different medical resources, such as healing substances or textbooks, is changing within the context of political and economic developments in South India. The subject of research are South Indian medical traditions – the Siddha and the Unani medicine – both rather neglected by previous work.

We are working under the assumption that analysing a ResourceComplex will enhance our understanding of health, body and medicine, as well as the understanding of regional and religious identities. Further, we will test the hypothesis that the issues of health and body in South India and the related ResourceComplexes are not analysable if viewed isolated from other global ResourceComplexes and interrelations (economic, legal, socio-political, etc.).

Philologists, historians and anthropologists used to study traditional medicine in India as specific local concepts, practices and texts. This approach tends to neglect the global entanglement of traditional medicine. This leads us to the assumption that traditional medicine cannot be described or understood by locally produced knowledge or products alone. Indeed, traditional medicine encompasses a multitude of local adaptions to national and international specifications. It even has the potential to influence international politics and economics, and thus has to be considered a global phenomenon. Project C06 will emphasise the far reaching networks that traditional medicine is a part of. Quicksilver (mercury) may serve as an example: it is praised in Siddha medicine and used in therapeutic drugs. On the other hand it is subject to national and international regulations about toxic substances and in turn influences those regulations. It will be studied how the use of quicksilver – and other substances, regarded as dangerous, such as lead, arsenic etc. – is changing in Siddha medicine.

In addition to this focus on substances like quicksilver, the Yunani medicine in South India will also be explored. It often is termed as a ‘Graeco-Arabian tradition’, because the Muslim hakims refer to a tradition combining ancient Greek medicine with Arabian philosophy, science and medicine. Since this way of healing is primarily practised by Muslims, while other medical concepts (Ayurveda, Siddha medicine) are rather based on Hindu tradition, a comparative, ethnographic and ethno-historical analysis may be expected to shed light on religious, communal and identity-political dimensions of a ResouceComplex on a general theoretical level as well as for medicine specifically. The case study will use a comprehensive corpus of textbooks and describe their changing history and modern re-configuration, as well as their use by traditional Unani hakims in Tamil-speaking South India.

Specifically the project tries to answer the following questions:
Why do some resources (such as quicksilver or textbooks) get accepted, while others are not?
In which way and because of which contextualising factors did Unani and Siddha medicine change, getting more similar or more distinct?
Which role is played by identity politics and communal structures in this?
Which role is played by global health regulations?
What is the potential of a resource focussed analysis for new cognisance about traditional medicine and religious identities?

It can be expected that the results will emphasise the mutual constituting of resource and society and will enhance the understanding of resources as processes, in addition there is the potential to rethink our understanding of medicine and power relations in South India.