Southeast Asian Medicine: transition, diversity and integration
Southeast Asia is often described as being “in transition”, a time of rapid economic, demographic and ecological change. This panel invites researchers and practitioners of Southeast Asian medicine to consider the following questions on diversity and integration in contemporary practice. Southeast Asia contains a heterogenous range of “traditional” medicine practices, often little-documented, which have undergone varying degrees of formalisation and health systems integration. But can Southeast Asian medical traditions be said to have certain common characteristics, and if so, how do these manifrest in medical theory and practice? To what extent do these originate from the spread of the “codified” traditions of China and India as opposed to being indigenous? Many Southeast Asian countries host highly ethnically diverse populations, and what is often termed “folk” or “rural” medicine use is still widespread. Ritual, religion and magic often play a prominent part in treatment, and practices can be highly diverse and individualised, in a dynamic state of production.
Therefore, how far can each country be considered to have its own medical system, and does a “national medicine” exist in a defined form? Has it been influenced and changed through contact with biomedicine, or positioned in opposition? Is this “national medicine” in contrast to the pluralistic forms through which medical practice is commonly enacted? Has it been through a process of “re-invention” for political purposes; can it be understood through the perspective of “symbolic capital” or as “resistance” against past colonial influence? What are the implications of its social and political status for future health system integration and state legislation?
Furthermore, many medical practices in Southeast Asia are still closely connected with the collection of biodiversity and the practitioner’s relationship with the natural world; how will a changing cultural and ecological landscape affect their future use and survival? Does the loss of access to biodiversity affect the forms in which medicine is produced and practised?