Accepted Paper:

Shifting (un-)certainties? Trust in herbal medicines in the urban context of Kinshasa  


Valérie Liebs (Georg August University Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

In Kinshasa, insecurities about healers' practices are widespread. Therefore, some herbalists concentrate medical attention on medicinal plant products. We will describe this phenomenon and discuss if we can talk about a de-personalisation regarding medical certainties.

Paper long abstract:

In Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), strong diversity in medical practices, lack of control, weak infrastructure and unserious practices increase mistrust in medical competences. Medical practices using mainly medicinal plants and relied by most of Kinshasa's inhabitants to the "medicine of the ancestors" face different critics. People complain about lack of knowledge, especially the correct dosage, as well as charlatanism and "evil" practices like witchcraft.

In order to stand against that, specialists in this domain - we call them herbalists - use strategies that seek to distantiate their work from these points of critics. In doing so, they direct their and the patients' attention increasingly on medically related objects and rooms which are more familiar to the biomedical setting, like consultation rooms, patient files, and standardized products.

In the present paper, basing on data gained from 14 months of ethnobotanic and medical anthropological fieldwork in the context of a PhD in Kinshasa, we will first describe how herbalists use trust-shaping strategies to enhance the value of their herbal practices. Then we will discuss if the shifting attention away from personal handling towards medical objects could be understood as a process of "de-personalisation" in this context.

Panel W132
Uncertainty and trust in medicines and therapeutic techniques