Accepted Paper:

The gift, who gifts, and who's been gifted: querying the give-and-take among classically trained physicians and their patients in south India  


Anthony Cerulli (Hobart & William Smith Colleges)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on my fieldwork at traditional ayurvedic clinical settings in Kerala, south India, this paper considers the interface, communicative acts, and offerings of treatment among classically trained physicians of Ayurveda and their patients in view of theories of gift exchange in India.

Paper long abstract:

During non-emergency appointments at traditional sites of ayurvedic healthcare in Kerala, south India, classically trained Brahmin physicians and their patients seldom exchange anything of substance (whether medicinal or monetary). The physician-patient interface instead routinely involves an exchange of knowledge. Interactions between physicians and patients in these meetings speak to the highly theorized notion of the "Indian gift" and the question of prestation in Indian societies. This paper explores the nature of the exchange in the supply and reception of healthcare among physicians and patients at traditional sites of ayurvedic treatment (i.e., sites not affiliated with governmental or private hospitals or clinics) in contemporary Kerala. Drawing on classical treatises about the dharma of gifts (danadharma) and the medical classics of Ayurveda, this paper examines reciprocity, ideal preconditions of givers and receivers of gifts, and the possibility of the "pure gift" in the evaluation and production of wellbeing. Given that the contemporary administration of Ayurveda in Kerala (as in other places in India) has overwhelmingly moved out of traditional clinical settings and into modern hospitals, clinics and spa-like centers, this study also raises questions about historical continuities and dissimilarities in the "gift" of ayurvedic healthcare at different sites of treatment.

Panel P046
Give and take: gift exchange in South Asia