Medicine, Mobility, and Power in Global Africa: Transnational Health and Healing

Medicine, Mobility, and Power in Global Africa: Transnational Health and Healing

Medicine, Mobility, and Power in Global Africa: Transnational Health and Healing

Medicine, Mobility, and Power in Global Africa: Transnational Health and Healing

Synopsis

Recent political, social, and economic changes in Africa have provoked radical shifts in the landscape of health and healthcare. Medicine, Mobility, and Power in Global Africa captures the multiple dynamics of a globalized world and its impact on medicine, health, and the delivery of healthcare in Africa--and beyond. Essays by an international group of contributors take on intractable problems such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and insufficient access to healthcare, drugs, resources, hospitals, and technologies. The movements of people and resources described here expose the growing challenges of poverty and public health, but they also show how new opportunities have been created for transforming healthcare and promoting care and healing.

Excerpt

Ethnographic and historical work on healing and medicine in Africa reveals a great deal about politics and power; social organization and economic conditions; global regimes of value and local practices of valuing bodies, kin, and community. Medicine is significant not only for its therapeutic effects on individual bodies, whether biological, symbolic, spiritual, or otherwise mediated. Medicine and healing, as Steven Feierman (1985) argues, have also long been implicated in the organization and transformation of social and communal life in the sub-Saharan African region—and vice versa. Therefore, on a larger scale, as medicinal substances, therapeutic practices, and healing practitioners (as well as the institutions, technologies, policies, and ethical frameworks to which they adhere) circulate, they shape myriad aspects of social, political, and economic life. This volume takes the mobility of medicines, patients, and experts as its primary object of investigation. Few studies of the postcolonial transnationalisms that shape medicine in or out of Africa have included both “traditional” and “modern” medicines in their accounts. Yet the histories of “traditional” medicine, religious healing, and biomedicine are intertwined, and all indicate the importance of regional and inter-regional movement.

That “mobility is power” is an old truism in African healing. Even in precolonial times, healing powers were assumed to increase significantly with the movements of healers and medicinal products across often wide regional distances (Comaroff 1981). Traditional African therapies and healers traveling from afar have long claimed heightened potency (Digby 2004), while biomedicine spread throughout the continent as a result of missionization, colonization, and international development (Vaughan 1991). Equally, military conquests as well as the establishing of labor markets, urban centers, and the associated infrastructures of mobility in colonial settings paved the way for the spread of epidemic diseases and mobile pathogens (Feierman 1985: 85f.); this in turn effected medical interventions and long-term changes in local social and moral orders (Ranger 1992: 247) and facilitated the incorporation of Africa into the emerging capitalist world order.

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