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Title: Alternative pharmaceuticals : the technoscientific becomings of Tibetan medicines in-between India and Switzerland
Author: van der Valk, Jan M. A.
ISNI:       0000 0004 6347 5396
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2017
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This doctoral dissertation forges and explores connections, flows and frictions between two seemingly unrelated manufacturers of Tibetan medicines: Men-Tsee-Khang, the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh, India), and PADMA AG in Wetzikon (Zürich, Switzerland). Adopting a translocal, multispecies approach by positioning plant-medicines as the central actors in this ethnography, I trace how four plants - aru, ruta, tserngön and bongnak - become part of medicine in and between these two establishments of Sowa Rigpa of similar age and output volume, situated in highly diverse contexts at a stereotypical 'periphery' and 'core' of Western technoscience respectively. Inspired by Science and Technology Studies and by Pordié and Gaudillière's (2014a) 'reformulation regime' of industrial Ayurvedic proprietary products, I analyse the on-going material, technoscientific, and regulatory reformulations of Tibetan materia medica as they are actualised in contemporary recipes based on classical texts. In this thesis, I describe how both PADMA and Men-Tsee-Khang refer to Tibetan medical texts yet also rely on botanical taxonomy for plant identification. Both face the uncertainties of sourcing raw materials in bulk from growers and traders on the Indian market, skilfully mass-produce pills by means of machines for grinding, mixing, sieving and packaging, and depend on in-house laboratory analyses and each-other's expertise in the construction of hybrid 'qualities'. They are also forced to interact with technomedical conceptions of drug safety and toxicity, and with European medicine and food registration legislation to varying degrees. I argue that in performing this series of technoscientific reformulations, Tibetan medicines are becoming 'alternative pharmaceuticals': liminal, paradoxical yet politically subversive things oscillating betwixt and between tradition and modernity, orthodoxy and innovation, East and West. Men-Tsee-Khang and PADMA could thus be interpreted as two possible instantiations of a quasi-industrial techno-Sowa Rigpa, but only if one distinguishes 'Big' from 'Small Alternative' Pharma, and never without leaving crucial contradictions and identity politics behind.
Supervisor: Alexiades, Miguel Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available