Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Glenn D Stone


This dissertation aimed to understand formal and informal ayurvedic knowledge and practice through the framework of commodification, in the context of the recent emergence of global ayurvedic tourism in Kerala, India. The objective was to understand how commodification, both old and new, have affected knowledges and livelihoods of actors constituting the ayurvedic commodity chain, with a focus on `social lives' of ayurvedic pharmaceuticals and select herb-ingredients. I argue that the trajectory of commodification in Kerala provides a stark contrast to the national mainstream with its focus on classical vis-à-vis proprietary medicines. This therapy-centric business model maintained the integrity of traditional ayurvedic practice by keeping the ayurvedic doctor within the loop. I suggest that the new wave of multi-faceted tourism-inspired commodification draws on this strength. This in turn has created a paradigmatic shift in the way ayurveda is commodified locally and globally, by switching focus from `pharmaceuticals' to `services', and `illness' to `wellness'.

I suggest that conceptualizing classical medicines as `open-source commodities', brings attention to the significance of background knowledge processes. While distinct stakeholder characteristics and historic State patronage are significant factors, at the root of the commercial viability of open-source-ayurveda, I argue, is the continuity of a cultural practice, the robustness of it I attribute to its historical evolution in Kerala as a mass commodity in contrast to its elitist status elsewhere. However, industrialization threatens the traditional role of knowledge-intensive actors: doctors, consumers, raw drug shops and medicinal plant collectors. I argue that the industry's role is contributory rather than causal; more significant in endangering ayurvedic metis are effects of modern institutionalization shaped by goals of homogenization and scientization. Discussing the nature of deskilling each node has undergone, I demonstrate the significance of `cultural stakes' in the conservation of common property resources that are more often that not at loggerheads with `economic stakes'.

The arguments in this dissertation are built over and contribute to three bodies of anthropological research: economic anthropology engaged in the study of commodities and commodification processes, ecological anthropology concerned with conservation of common property resources, and medical anthropology concerned with study of medical systems and pharmaceuticals.


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