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Judith Farquhar presented her Herbalist Doctor Lei's filedwork story in Tsinghua

In our 107th Salon of Sociology of Science and Science Policy, Prof. Judith Farquhar introduced her recent article entitled “How Herbalist Doctor Lei Avoids Assimilation to Official Ethno-Pharmaco-Botany” (2017), to be published in “A Manual for a Post-Colonial Arctic” edited by John Law and Marianne Lien. At the beginning of her talk, Prof. Farquhar explained why she and Prof. Lili Lai, her collaborator, accepted the invitation by John Law, who is well known in science studies and has great sympathy for anthropological research. Law and Prof. Farquhar both concentrate on the details of practices, which is characteristic of both anthropology and science studies. They attend closely to how science, or knowing, is actually done. Invariably, the results of such studies, often in the form of particular stories, suggest that we must reconsider certain aspects of conventional grand narratives about the triumph of modern science and the rule of objective reason in today’s world. According to Prof. Farquhar, the work of John Law can be seen as a way of pluralizing knowledge, recovering local, contingent and ephemeral forms of science. And this is Prof. Farquhar’s anthropological interest in styles of knowing far beyond the laboratories and observatories and computer servers of the scientific world. The story she told just shows the encounter between local knowledge and global science. In the course of encounters, some rather distinct worlds of authority, expertise, and truth take shape.
Since 2010, Prof. Farquhar and Prof. Lai have been engaging in the activities of “salvage and sort” minority nationality medicines endorsed by the Chinese government. They traveled many places in southern China doing ethnographic research. Prof. Farquhar presented excerpts from field notes that they wrote in July, 2014 after a visit with a respected village healer, in the Nujiang area of Yunnan Province. She mainly explored this healer’s education, knowledge, and trade secrets. This story vividly and interestingly represents the uniqueness and specificity of local medicine. For instance, she emphasized the effect of “down-to-earth methods (tu banfa, 土办法)” to local illness and emphasized the particularity of local diseases. Western medicine comes from the outside world, but the local diseases have local characteristics. Therefore, exotic medicine cannot have effect to local diseases. It can be seen from this case that the local medicine is a different world of practice with rich experiences. And local experts can teach scholars and scientists much about how to know both culture and nature, differently. Science can never depict a one-world, and different worlds have their different culture and different nature.

After the talk of Prof. Farquhar, Prof. Bing Liu at Tsinghua University commented on her talk and raised several questions. For example, what is Dr. Lei’s educational background? If his educational background relates to other medicines, even western medicine, then what is the influence of this educational background on his medical practices? How should we locate him? Moreover, how about the situation of the identification of local patients in this case? In addition, speaking of Chinese medicine, it includes a lot of minority medicines. Therefore, when we use the term Chinese Medicine, how should we understand it? Besides, the Traditional Chinese Medicine can be seen as a post-colonial medicine comparing with the Western Medicine. Similarly, other minority medicines can be seen as post-colonial medicines comparing with the Traditional Chinese Medicine. So, how shall we understand the post-colonial issue? Prof. Liu raised lots of interesting questions, which led to heated debates and deep thinking. Other issues raised include: the state standardization and regulation of medical practice, medical theory and medical practices, and boundary disputes and classification. Prof. Lai also responded as the co-author of the paper.

To conclude, this Salon shows the richness and uniqueness of local medicine, using field work of medical anthropology. This Local Knowledge’s way of seeing provides us with multiple worlds that can surpass the scientific monism.

(By Qiushi XU)