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Beyond "Tradition" and "Modernity": Landscapes of Healing in the Himalaya

Sienna R. Craig

Dartmouth College



What does it mean to be ill? What resources are called upon to address sickness and suffering? What determines if a therapy, medicine, or healthcare intervention can effectively alleviate that suffering? How do individuals, families, communities, and health care providers navigate peoples’ passages between a domain of “health” or “wellness” and what Susan Sontag has called “the kingdom of the sick”? How do biomedical practices relate to, interact with, complement, and complicate other forms of healing, from ritual practice to the so-called “traditional” medicine? What choices do people make about how to allocate scarce resources for healthcare, within landscapes of medical pluralism and diverse cultural understandings of the body? How do the social lives of medicines – be they “traditional” or “modern” in form – shape these decisions? What do we do when medicine can’t save our lives? How do we understand what it means to have a “good” death?

These questions illustrate core areas of inquiry in a range of scholarly disciplines, from medical anthropology and history of medicine to public health, cultural geography, and beyond. Significantly, all of these questions have been addressed empirically through decades of research in Nepal and the greater Himalaya. In this presentation, I explore how social studies of medicine, health, and illness have been shaped by understandings to emerge this region of the world; and I synthesize connections between “global health” and “development” as political-economic categories with social ecologies of healing as they play out in Himalayan communities and across Asian medical systems.