Resistance or inaction? Protecting ayurvedic medical knowledge and problems of agency

by Murphy Halliburton

Through an examination of reactions by practitioners of ayurvedic medicine to India's new WTO-mandated Patents Act, this article problematizes approaches to agency, resistance, and the intelligibility of systems of power in social theory. The coming together of law, science, and different practices of medicine in this case is challenging to decipher in terms of its potential effects on India's ayurvedic medical system, and ayurvedic medical practitioners have very divergent positions about how to protect their knowledge from misappropriation—ranging from organized resistance to deliberate inaction—and disagree over whether the new laws present a threat. I present theoretical approaches, largely from science and technology studies, that decenter the role of human agency and consider inaction an informed reaction to power in an effort to begin to focus more fully on problems of agency and intelligibility that social analysts have only peripherally acknowledged in their considerations of power and resistance.