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The Colonial Life of Pharmaceuticals
Medicines and Modernity in Vietnam


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Part of Global Health Histories

  • Date Published: October 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108466530

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About the Authors
  • Situated at the crossroads between the history of colonialism, of modern Southeast Asia, and of medical pluralism, this history of medicine and health traces the life of pharmaceuticals in Vietnam under French rule. Laurence Monnais examines the globalization of the pharmaceutical industry, looking at both circulation and consumption, considering access to drugs and the existence of multiple therapeutic options in a colonial context. She argues that colonialism was crucial to the worldwide diffusion of modern medicines and speaks to contemporary concerns regarding over-reliance on pharmaceuticals, drug toxicity, self-medication, and the accessibility of effective medicines. Retracing the steps by which pharmaceuticals were produced and distributed, readers meet the many players in the process, from colonial doctors to private pharmacists, from consumers to various drug traders and healers. Yet this is not primarily a history of medicines as objects of colonial science, but rather a history of medicines as tools of social change.

    • The first history to examine how pharmaceuticals were produced, defined, and brought to consumers in a colonial context
    • Highlights the political, economic, and sociocultural contexts of medical practices in Southeast Asia
    • Assesses the early globalization of pharmaceuticals
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    • Winner, 2021 EAHMH Book Prize, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Historians of colonial medicine and anthropologists who study the social life of pharmaceuticals have been eagerly awaiting this book. With exceptional panache, Monnais shows us how taking the material turn can transform the history of global health into a genealogy of our pharmaceutical present. An anthropological sensibility reveals the everyday practice of state medicine, the fostering of markets for medical commodities, and the creation of modern, drug-dependent consumers. Just like mosquitoes, it seems, drugs have lifecycles and ecological niches, and they can serve too as vectors - not of disease, but rather, of European medicine and modernity.' Warwick Anderson, University of Sydney

    'From colonial indifference and toxic fears to avid consumerism and hybrid therapeutics, Monnais reveals the dynamic history behind Vietnam's pharmaceutical pasts. Her meticulous research highlights Vietnamese agency in the making of a modern medical culture and provides an exemplary study of the origins of medicalization in the global south.' David Arnold, University of Warwick

    'Brilliantly crafted and ingeniously researched, this is an absorbing exploration of medicalization and modernization under colonial rule that underscores the foundational agency of the colonized and the persistence of therapeutic pluralism. A richly textured study of Vietnam, it also offers a compelling model for understanding the vital role of medicines as vectors of social change across the Global South.' John Harley Warner, Yale University, Connecticut

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2022
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108466530
    • length: 290 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 15 mm
    • weight: 0.426kg
    • contains: 6 b/w illus. 3 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Making medicines modern, making medicines colonial
    2. Medicines in colonial (public) health
    3. The mirage of mass distribution: state Quinine and essential medicines
    4. The many lives of medicines in the private market
    5. Crimes and misdemeanors: transactions and transgressions in the therapeutic market
    6. Learning effects: lived experiences, pharmaceutical publicity and the roots of selective demand
    7. Medicines as vectors of modernization and medicalization
    8. Therapeutic pluralism under colonial rule
    Conclusion: from colonial medicines to post-colonial health.

  • Author

    Laurence Monnais, Université de Montréal
    Laurence Monnais is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Asian Studies (CETASE) at Université de Montréal. She specializes in the history of medicine in Southeast Asia, global histories of health and the history of alternative medicines. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, she is also co-founder and president of History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA).


    • Winner, 2021 EAHMH Book Prize, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health

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