Thursday, June 19, 2014

Abstract 2014 Dominik Merdes

Dominik Merdes, Department for the History of Pharmacy and Science, Technische Universität Braunschweig

The Emergence of Chemotherapy in Colonial India: Modern Medicine and Inequality

During the first two decades of the 20th century drug production has changed with the coalescence of flows of tropical medicine, pharmaceutical industries, parasites and philanthropic capital, that was neither restricted to the “centre” nor to the “periphery”. Within this process the “birth of modern chemotherapy” took place, an emblem of (neo)colonial claims to hegemony that arose in European public with drugs like Salvarsan as an allegedly European invention.

In my PhD project “The Production of a Pharmacon – A Cartography of the Kala-Azar and the Antimonials”, a critical examination of the tropical epidemical disease and its therapy between the  late 19th century and the late 1920s, I analyse this transformation, particularly with regard to the excluding power relations that constituted cognitive processes. The history of kala-azar is closely tied to British India and to the history of modern chemotherapeutics, i.e. drugs for infectious diseases. In opposition to widespread myths that locate the origin of modern chemotherapy in the minds of great white men, I am conceptualizing the production of drugs, following Gilles Deleuze und Félix Guattari, as a machinic assemblage that comes into being through the interactions of heterogeneous elements like trypanosomes, dyestuffs, industrial capital, diseases, microscopes and physicians. Starting from the history of kala-azar my talk focuses on reconfigurations of clusters of inequality that came about with the transformation of the medical machine. On the one hand modern  chemotherapy emerged from the exploitation of inequality that worked along hierarchical pejorative categories like caste, class, race, gender, community and devaluated, for example, the coolies working on the tea plantations of Assam.

Disease arose from inequality, and the object of hegemonic medicine was constituted in inequality. On the other hand perceptions of healing and the subject-formation of its human agents changed. The constellation supported and naturalised constructs such as patents, property and the individual possessive subject both in “Indian” and in “European” medical communities. The core issues are the reconfigurations of inequality within the medical profession and within the doctor-patient relationship in the backdrop of the Indian independence movement. For the community of western-educated indigenous physicians was an integral part of the machinic assemblage that mediated “western” hegemonic medicine and conveyed European male constructed patterns of relation between subject and object, physician and patient. At the same time emerged a new quality in the very core of hegemonic medicine as with the formation of modern chemotherapy, which just cannot be limited to Europe, entanglements between medicine and capitalism intensified.

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