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(Con)textualizing Asian Medicines: The “Documentization” of Sowa Rigpa and the Anthropology of Texts


· Stephan Kloos Institute for Social Anthropology (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)


07/27 | 13:50-14:10 UTC+2/CEST


As Asian medicines are increasingly integrated into national health systems, and as their progressive industrialization exposes them to national and international regimes of standardization and regulation, we can observe a triple process of “documentization. This process entails: 1) The increasing regulation of Asian medicines through normative documents, such as government acts, drug laws, health and economic strategy papers, national curricula, WHO and WTO policies, etc. 2) An increasing documentation of their practice and knowledge through ostensibly descriptive (but usually also normative) texts, such as official pharmacopoeias, the paper trails demanded by GMP regulations, drug registers, and practitioner certificates. 3) Increasing scrutiny of Asian medicines and their industries, which include both critical scholarly research and public debates in the media. In this paper, I use the case of Sowa Rigpa in South Asia to trace these three processes of documentation. I will show that while texts - mostly in the form of medical treatises - have always been important in Sowa Rigpa, today with the emergence of this new textual genre of “documents”, texts are more central than ever to its knowledge, practice, and politics. I argue that textual research needs to take these documents as seriously as the classical canon, and that anthropological research needs to take them as seriously as conventional ethnographic data. In fact, anthropological expertise is indispensable to correctly read and contextualize this textual genre, and utilize it to generate a better understanding of Sowa Rigpa and Asian medicines today.