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Trust talk and alienable talk in healing : a problem of medical diversity


Parkin,  David
Socio-Cultural Diversity, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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Parkin, D. (2011). Trust talk and alienable talk in healing: a problem of medical diversity. MMG Working Paper, (11-11).

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-4A10-3
Co-existing medical traditions operate at different levels of scale. In rural eastern Africa there are diviners and herbalists whose clients are drawn from the immediate neighbourhood. Some develop healing reputations more widely over a region or nation, sometimes with prophetic and witch-finding powers. Biomedical clinics
and hospitals are also interlinked regionally, nationally and internationally. Patients or carers may seek healthcare by moving through these different levels, sometimes beginning with a neighbourhood healer and sometimes trying out different therapies
simultaneously. Sicknesses and misfortunes are often first discussed within a family or homestead, with concern for the victim extending to all its members. The talk is based on assumed trust among its members. But, if unresolved, the affliction may trigger a crisis which breaks the trust, so that healers beyond the neighbourhood are sought, whether prophetic/witch-finding or biomedical. Taken out of the context of family and homestead intimacy, the talk blames the ailment on the malevolence or
negligence of individuals in the community. Talk about sickness among sufferers and between them and healers, is thus transformed from that which seeks resolution in
amity to that which seeks culpability and, sometimes, retribution. A similar process
of sickness talk changing through its appropriation by wider scale and more powerful medical authority occurs also in western biomedical hospitals and clinics.