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Governance and Circulation of Asian Medicine

Une conférence organisée par Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore et le Cermes3

Les 22 et 23 septembre 2015




This workshop will explore the ways by which public and private institutions in various Asian countries regulate, control and market industrial Asian medicine since the 1970s to date. A special emphasize will be given to processes of production, distribution and circulation as they become increasingly dependent of biomedical know-how, categories and clinical targets. Thus subject to new forms of biopower, Asian medicines however developed their own innovation and protection models – sometimes critically engaging with the dominating, molecular pharmaceutical paradigm that prevails since WWII – and are found increasingly present in the global marketplace.

Either initiated by corporate firms or encouraged by the States, the industrialization and standardization of Asian medicines have entailed dramatic changes bearing on both medical epistemology and therapeutic practice. This situation led to new questions pertaining to safety and efficacy. Similarly, hybrid forms of manufacturing practices – often inspired by so-called universal models of GMPs – and peculiar modes of regulation and (scientific) marketing characterize this industry. On the clinical end of the spectrum, the depersonalization of care (mass-production vs. individual variability) calls for a new understanding of Asian Medicine in today's world.

A series of guidelines have been established to regulate and monitor these transformations. This process has long been described as political, as it usually takes place in relation to central governing structures and entails remarkable transformations of therapeutic power. It is also deeply economic; one of the chief aims is to foster market penetration and the accumulation of capital. This reorganization, however, cannot be reduced to a mere political or economic reading. It also involves the moral foundations of medicine and therapeutic power, as they concern values and the nature of right and wrong. While we will not lose sight of the social, cultural, epistemological and clinical dimensions of contemporary changes in Asian medicine, it is indeed important in this workshop to observe the normative character and the moral inflection of these transformations. And this is all the more true when speaking of norm-generating regulatory regimes.

The World Health organization is one typical actor in this field, alongside national institutions. However, the content, and degree of compliance to international guidelines varies considerably from one country or one manufacturer to the other, which are free to implement them or not. This variability also emerges from the loose nature of the controls, which in turn largely enables the circulation of unregistered or illicit herbal pharmaceuticals, which may comprise plants, minerals or metals banned in the national pharmacopoeias of targeted countries. To study this complex landscape therefore requires a collective, multi-sited and multidisciplinary approach, covering several configurations and geographic areas in Asia.

The aim of this gathering is to unpack the organized sets of practices that govern contemporary Asian medicine from their production in the lab to their circulation within circuits and networks of all kinds. The method put forward will merge history of science, medical anthropology and science and technology studies.

Download the programme and the abstracts


Vijay Chauhan (Yuva Healthcare, New Delhi)
Liz Chee (Asia Research Institute, Singapore)
Céline Coderey (Asia Research Institute, Singapore)
Anita Hardon (University of Amsterdam)
Por Heong Hong (University of Malaya)
Wen-Hua Kuo (National Yang-Ming University, Taipei)
Eunjeong Ma (Pohang University of Science and Technology)
Karen McNamara (Asia Research Institute, Singapore)
Evelyne Micollier (Institute for Research on Development, IRD, Vientiane)
Sebastianus Nawiyanto (University of Jember, East Java)
Laurent Pordié (CNRS-Cermes3, Paris)
Martin Saxer (Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich)
Arielle Smith (Cermes3, Paris)
Ayo Wahlberg (University of Copenhagen)


Gregory Clancey (Asia Research Institute, Singapore), Céline Coderey (Asia Research Institute, Singapore) and Laurent Pordié (CNRS-Cermes3, Paris).

Organizing bodies

Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore.
Research Centre on Science, Medicine and Society (Cermes3 – EHESS, CNRS, Inserm), Paris.


Asia Research Institute, NUS, Singapore