Medical Anthropology of Traditional Medicines and COVID-19

Hsu ElisabethGoverning Body Fellow Professor Elisabeth Hsu has written on ‘COVID-19: Recommendations for Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) treatment’ in The Society for Cultural Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). The society explores the anthropological endeavour and interdisciplinary connections, and welcomes new points of view and approaches to world issues.

In Fieldsights: Hot Spots, Special Issue, from The Society for Cultural Anthropology, the series ‘Responding to an Unfolding Pandemic: Asian Medicines and Covid-19’ brings together interdisciplinary accounts on the history, contemporary practices, and politics of epidemics in general, and in particular in relation to traditional medicines from Chinese and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Daoist, Sowa Rigpa, Indian Ayurveda, Japanese Kampo, South Korean, and Vietnamese contexts. Two works in the series, by Professor Hsu and colleagues, explore the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Read more in the two articles:

Professor Hsu’s research fields include: Medical anthropology, ethnobotany, sensory anthropology, anthropology and language, ethnographic methods; Chinese medicine studies, textual studies, semantics and pragmatics. Read more about her work.

Medical Anthropology has had a continuous presence in the college since 2001. The Green Templeton Medical Anthropology Discussion Group was founded in 2002 and, with the help of a small academic grant, substantially transformed in 2014 to become Green Templeton Medical Anthropology Film and Discussion Group.

Medical anthropology is a subfield of anthropology which straddles the social, natural and medical sciences. It has been growing extremely fast, not least due to its ethos of inclusiveness and its transregional and transdisciplinary orientation. Critical medical anthropology has a critical edge, critical also of the social processes that lead to its own knowledge production. Accordingly, any claim of ethnographic writing to ‘objective’ ‘factual’ knowledge is to a certain extent precluded through its main fieldwork method of ‘participant observation’, which emphasizes the positionality of the researchers and their co-production of knowledge with the people they study. Ethnographic fieldwork requires some degree of linguistic proficiency of the researcher, their long-term interaction with a people as they move through different place(s), and a professional ethics of, in a first instance, being open, understanding and respectful of what the people they work with say and do.

The professional rigour comes from an examination and reflection of the encounters and conversations had, and the events lived through together, as well as from the additional information gathered in pre- and post-fieldwork periods (regarding history, geography, ecology, etc.). Good ethnography, which always will take account of qualitative combined with quantitative research, arises from the ability of the researcher to move from the singular to the plural, to see connections and identify trends in specific manifestations. It is not anecdotal because the anecdote works with a worldview that rigidly infers general rules from specific cases; a worldview where case materials are used ‘to illustrate’ the general rule.  The worldview good ethnography advocates is a matter of debate, yet if the reader starts querying the one they have, the ethnographic piece is, if not good, at least successful.

Created: 12 August 2020