From social lives to interactive playing fields: the "pharmaceutical" Artemisinin and the "herbal" Artemisia annua
Avec Elisabeth Hsu (University of Oxford)
With the tenth anniversary of the landmark publication The Social Life of Medicines (Whyte et al. 2003), new avenues for exploring the ‘thinginess of things’ (Latour 2000) are opening up. This paper compares two ‘Chinese antimalarial’ formulations that have made inroads into health fields of East Africa. First, the different brands of the Western pharmaceutical Artemisinin are shown to have ‘failed to fulfil their promise’ in their current WHO- requested formulation as ACTs (Artemisinin Combination Therapy). By contrast, ways in which a practical engagement with the medicinal plant itself, i.e. Artemisia annua and its related species, may have a revolutionary potential for developing herbal Chinese antimalarial formulations. Rather than taking an ‘ego-centred’ and transactionalist viewpoint that follows the drug through a string of ‘regimes of value’ (Appadurai 1980), this paper emphasizes how agency emerges in a nexus of person to person and plant to person interactions in ever shifting playing fields.