Stuck in the Clinic: Vernacular Healing and Medical Anthropology in Contemporary sub-Saharan Africa

Photo Credit: China Scherz

Abstract

While vernacular therapeutics had long been a topic of interest to many writing about medicine and healing in Africa, with a few exceptions most recent anthropological writings on medicine in Africa are focused on biomedicine. In this article, I trace this shift back to the turn of the millennium and the convergence of three events: the emergence of global health, the accession of the occult economies paradigm, and critiques of culturalism in medical anthropology. I argue that these three shifts led to research projects and priorities that looked different from those defined and undertaken as late as the late 1990s. While seeking to avoid the errors that could come with writing about vernaculartherapeutic traditions in Africa as bounded comprehensive systems, I argue that there are empirical, political, and practical reasons why medical anthropologists may want to reconsider our collective research priorities.