Patient Agency Revisited: “Healing the Hidden” in South India

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Abstract

It is often argued that biomedicine alienates patients from doctors, from ailments and from understanding treatment processes, while indigenous and alternative healing systems are portrayed as respectful of patients and their experience. Specifically, South Indian siddha medicine has been seen as diverging from biomedicine in empowering its patients. This approach not only assumes biomedicine to be a homogeneous practice, but also lumps together diverse therapeutic techniques under the labels of “traditional” or “alternative.” Analysis of a manual subdiscipline of siddha medicine cautions against such analytic imprecision and active/passive binaries in physician–patient encounters. Practitioners of vital spot medicine claim to “heal the hidden.” They rarely communicate diagnostic insights verbally and object to auxiliary devices. However, their physical engagement with patients’ ailing bodies highlights the corporeal nature of manual medicine in particular and processual, situational, and reciprocal characteristics of curing in general.

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