Summary written by – Laurie Denyer Willis –

Medicines are typically thought of as chemical structures with biological effects on the ill. But medicines are also material things with cultural and symbolic meaning. In this ground breaking work, the authors propose that we think about ‘the social lives of medicines’. Consider, for example, the social life of a commercialised pharmaceutical: These are highly sought after commodities that circulate the globe, entering pharmacies, drug shops, people’s homes and their bodies.

From labs in London, to drug trials in India, to markets around the world, medicines are exemplars of globalisation. They swiftly move into local societies, transforming both health systems and lives. At the same time, medicines are intimate and personal things. As the authors write, medicines are “swallowed, inserted into bodies, rubbed on by anxious mothers, used to express care and intimately empower the uncertain individual” (3). Simply put, medicines are “social and cultural phenomena” with more than just biological effects on an individual body. By looking at medicines as if they lead social lives, we get a new way to understand how their value is cultural, economic, political, and personal.

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