A Critical Review of Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine


critical review
Sowa Rigpa
traditional Tibetan medicine

How to Cite

Gowan, M. . (2020). A Critical Review of Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine . Pathways, 1(1), 96–104. https://doi.org/10.29173/pathways8


This article offers a critical review of Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine. The ethnography provides rich and comprehensive insights regarding the triumphs and tribulations of Sowa Rigpa (traditional Tibetan medicine) as the medical system is translated across diverse contexts to ensure its continuity within the globalized world; however, these insights can be broadened by more deliberately acknowledging and investigating the (post)colonial subtexts underlying these translations. Incommensurability emerges throughout the ethnography in the form of tensions that arise as tacit knowledge is translated to explicit knowledge in the quest for legitimization. It is argued that expounding the nature of this incommensurability by engaging with rather than rejecting polarized notions of “traditional” and “modern” paradigms can reveal that non-biomedical medical systems and medically pluralistic contexts more broadly are inundated by (post)colonial processes. Borrowing Blaser’s (2013) notion of “Sameing,” it is demonstrated that translation involves (post)colonial processes of assimilation, as Sowa Rigpa is rendered visible through Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), and appropriation, as it is made palatable through pharmaceutical commodification. Furthermore, it is argued that these processes mobilize  mimesis and essentialization to transform Sowa Rigpa into a system that is both legitimized and acquiescent to the imperatives of varying external regimes. The simultaneity of these effects and the position that they are not mutually exclusive is asserted throughout the review as further evidence of (post)colonization.



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