Popular Medicine: Reconfiguring Medical Practice in Africa
Sub-theme: Health and Healing
The depiction of biomedicine as acultural and universal has been convincingly challenged by research in the social studies of medicine. At the same time, postcolonial studies of medical pluralism have shown that, in plural medical contexts, the boundaries between discrete categories of knowledge and practices are often blurred and purposefully left ambiguous by patients and healers alike. These bodies of scholarship have critiqued the notion of distinct epistemic categories sustained by earlier ethno-medical studies of local medical systems, which sought to understand interpretive systems of illness in isolation. Instead, they show how biomedicine and traditional medicine have been coproduced in Africa (as elsewhere) through encounters such as colonization, missionization, post-independence socialist policies, international development, and structural adjustment (Comaroff 1985; Geissler and Molyneux 2011; Langwick 2006, 2010, 2011; Tilley 2011). Focusing on the movement of bodies, knowledge, and patients, this literature also problematizes the notion of medical pluralism itself by showing how different healing regimes comingle and produce new entanglements (e.g. Langwick 2010).

Inspired by such work on plural healthcare systems, this panel investigates how engagements with biomedical technologies and treatments are shaped in dynamic dialogue with other treatment options and regimes in Africa, and how forms of medical knowledge and practice become reconfigured as something new in the process. We are especially attuned to how these recongifurations can enact different modes of living in the present or call forth alternative futures (Guyer 2007).

We seek papers that contribute to scholarship on how various kinds of medical technologies and treatments are evoked, understood, and/or practiced in Africa in ways that undo, reconfigure, or complicate epistemological and ontological divisions between biomedicine and traditional medicine. Papers may ask, for example, what particular medical technologies are to begin with, if they remain the same across different contexts, and how their identities may be shaped by other practices of knowledge and healing in the postcolonial context. Additionally, in response to the preponderance of literature about the social and political construction of traditional medicine as a concept in Africa (Feierman and Janzen 1992; Langwick 2006), we especially seek to explore how biomedical technologies and treatments are also socially constructed. Papers may consider, for instance, how the meanings and uses of medical technologies and treatments are shaped by their relationship to other healing regimes, symbolic divisions, forms of identity, or bodily schema.  Please email your paper title, abstract (250 words), current affiliation and contact info to Laura Meek ([email protected]) and Damien Droney ([email protected]) by March 5th.