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Modernisation and its side effects: an inquiry into the revival and renaissance of herbal medicine in Vietnam and Britain

Wahlberg, Ayo (2006) Modernisation and its side effects: an inquiry into the revival and renaissance of herbal medicine in Vietnam and Britain. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Herbal medicine has experienced tangible revivals in both Vietnam and the United Kingdom since the mid-20th century, as reflected in sales of herbal medicinal products, numbers of users and the availability of training opportunities for aspiring herbalists. In both countries, this revival came on the back of more or less concerted official efforts to discourage and even ban the practice and use of herbal medicine, by colonial authorities (in Vietnam) or professional medical associations and regulatory bodies (in the UK). Utilising archaeological and genealogical methods as developed by Canguilhem, Foucault and others, this study seeks to account for these revivals by pursuing three particular lines of analysis. Firstly, by describing the formations of power-knowledge relations which have allowed Vietnamese and British herbal medicine to challenge biomedical monopolies in the latter half of the 20th century, it is argued that the ways in which ‘quackery’ is conceptualised and regulated against in both countries today, has undergone substantial transformations. Secondly, by identifying the techniques of truth making which either suggest or contest a superior efficacy (over placebo) for two particular herbal medicines in the treatment of depression (in the UK) and addiction (in Vietnam), the study demonstrates how the concept of ‘efficacy’ not only pertains to bio-physiological effects but also to the symbolic effects of the treatments in question. Finally, by asking what kind of ‘life’ herbal medicine is seen to be affecting, it is suggested that longevity has been joined by quality of life as a separate, yet inherently interlinked, therapeutic site. One of the key conclusions of the dissertation is, that the sub-disciplines of medical anthropology and sociology have played a crucial role in the 20th century births of ‘traditional medicine’ and ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ (as opposed to ‘primitive’ and ‘fringe’ medicine). Firstly, in diagnosing a ‘crisis of modern medicine’ by highlighting its dehumanising and toxifying effects, and secondly, in providing a theory of symbolic efficacy which could help explain the continued importance of what had in the past been written off as ‘esoteric’ or ‘backward’ healing practices. As a consequence, the study describes how an ongoing governmentalisation of human subjectivities has been a requisite side effect of modernisation in the recent revival and renaissance of herbal medicine in Vietnam and the United Kingdom.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2006 Ayo Wahlberg
Library of Congress subject classification: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
R Medicine > RV Botanic, Thomsonian, and eclectic medicine
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Rose, Nikolas

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