Politically, Correct: Determining Scientific Truth and Legitimacy

Panel organiser:

Name Email
Nicole Elizabeth Barnes nicole.barnes@duke.edu


The question of what constitutes “real” science, and who has the right to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate scientific practice, is embedded in the political economies of (post-) colonialism and warfare. During the twentieth century, Asian medicines and sciences faced particularly poignant challenges to their definitions of legitimacy that incited practitioners, promoters and politicians to employ an array of tactics for determining and demonstrating “truth.” The political nature of the challenges invited politically motivated “defenses of indigeneity” that are themselves worthy of interpretation and analysis.

This panel thus fits into the theme “Policy, Economics, Global Health and Development.” Defenders of Asian medicines have had to walk a taught tightrope that hangs precariously between the world of denounced “quackery” and superstition, and the world of politically charged invented traditions such as TCM (“Traditional” Chinese Medicine that is utterly modern) and globalized yoga (which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently called “an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition”1). If they are forever relegated into the camp of superstition or the camp of exaggerated “tradition,” how are Asian medicines to articulate themselves in terms that insurance companies, government bodies and other power holders can accept?

This panel seeks to explore the fraught politics of defining scientific efficacy throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. We invite: papers that center on the body as a site for performing political expertise and expressing empirical uncertainty; analyses of the state as a historical actor that not only exercises formidable power but also confronts constrained agency; and examinations of different geopolitical concerns from across Asia, as well as intra-national and trans-national spaces. Papers that cover historical time periods can shed light on current processes, while papers on contemporary issues can illuminate the long-term trends plaguing Asian medicines. This panel excavates multiple meanings of science and medicine while questioning how different political conditions have scripted and continue to script the making and breaking of legitimacy and truth.

1 Modi spoke thusly in his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2014 in his petition for the establishment of the International Day of Yoga, which the UN declared in December.

Impressions of ICTAM IX

  • Impressions of ICTAM IX, 2017, by Matthias Burmeister, ICTAM IX Filmteam

Trailer ICTAM IX, 2017