'…the medicine is finished': traces of Euro-African modernity in the remains of state medical science and disease control in Kenya
Paul Wenzel Geissler (University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
How does medical science in Africa look if we approach it not as a European endeavour in Africa but as part of African modernity; and not in a postcolonial framework but from within the ongoing neoliberal restoration that transforms Africa and the rest of the world, including, reluctantly, Europe?
Paper long abstract:
Medical anthropologists and historians of colonial medicine in Africa show that scientific medical research and disease control in Europe and Africa was integral to power, discipline and hegemony within the forms of government that marked the last two centuries' global European modernity. This interpretation arises from a mid-20th century imaginary: European scientists, working with government, exercise power and knowledge on African bodies and territories; and governments, scientists and citizens hope to enact some version of scientific, economic and political progress. Our paper adds an early 21st century perspective to this convincing historical picture: How does medical science in Africa look like, if we approach it not as a European endeavour in Africa, but as part of African modernity; and if we view it not in a characteristically modern, post-colonial frame, but from within the ongoing neoliberal restoration that transforms Africa and the rest of the world, including, reluctantly, Europe? What are its effects and virtues, when the separations between us-them, subject-object, and past-future, that sustain the modern order, are in doubt? The question will be approached through a group of Kenyan scientific medical workers, who have conducted medical research and disease control for their government, throughout Kenya's independence. Their lives, views and recollections allow us to look back at modern African science. The commentary of these 'middle-men', dissolves the Euro-African contrast and inverts the narrative of progress. It invites reflection about the critique of modern regimes of power and knowledge that has now inspired us for a while. At a time when modern hopes and aspirations have moved out of reach, not just for African scientists, one wonders why many of us so miss this older modernity. What longing does the modern, European order call forth, now that the post-modern prophecies of its dissolution seem fulfilled? The elderly Kenyan scientific workers' experiences and achievements - and nostalgia - add to our understanding of a past African and European modernity, and of our present, shared predicament.
Medical anthropology, Europe and the world