Materiality, Efficacy, and the Politics of Potent Substances
This panel proposes to bring together scholars and practitioners for a multidisciplinary exploration of ‘potent substances’—the herbal, fungal, mineral, metal, and animal-based materia medica at the heart of Asian medicines. We aim to discuss issues such as the links between materiality and understandings of efficacy, and what makes a substance ‘potent’ in a given Asian medical tradition or setting.
- How can we approach the study of these ‘substances’ from historical, textual, ethnobotanical, anthropological, medical, ritual, and other perspectives in the increasingly global contexts that materia medica find themselves in, including the multiple and multi-storeyed networks, lifeworlds, and regulations?
- Who defines ‘potency,’ and how does this get politicised in contemporary moves to produce and regulate Asian medicines as pharmaceuticals in Asia, Europe, and beyond?
- Where, how, and why are we potentially losing access to ‘potent’ substances through policies, ways of doing science, endangered sources, or environmental changes?
- How can we develop more nuanced and multidisciplinary approaches to better embrace and understand the interplay between the biomedical-pharmacological-material worlds of the substances themselves and their socio-cultural, economic, and political aspects?
This panel will examine these and other areas of what makes substances ‘potent’ from various perspectives, including textual-historical, ethnographic, and sensorial and phenomenological. Our aim is also to further explore how materia medica are sourced, traded, identified, compounded, substituted, ritually consecrated, scientifically tested, (il)legalized, and politicized when used in Asian medicines and related healing practices.