On 7 March, the Warwick Arts Centre opened its doors to the Tales of Treatment photo exhibition, curated by Ms Nutcha (Ern) Charoenboon, directed by GSD Assistant Professor Marco J Haenssgen, and supported by GSD Student Ambassadors Rhys Hillan and Amicie Favre.
The photo exhibition narrated 15 stories of traditional healing that the “Antibiotics and Activity Spaces” research team encountered during a demanding journey to 72 villages and more than 15 different ethnic groups in Northern Thailand. Herbal medicine, ghost doctors, sacred books of chants, and ceremonial posts demonstrated that healing maintains firm though waning links to local knowledge and belief systems even in an economy and society transitioning as rapidly as Thailand’s. Approximately 70 guests enjoyed the half-day exhibition, engaged in lively and inspiring discussions, and left the event with very positive feedback! Among the testimonies were,
“Wonderful stories, good connection between each photo”
“So enlightening and so inspiring – who knew medicine was so fun!”
“Incredibly interesting photo exhibition on the variety of medical treatments used in Asia”
In his talk at the exhibition, Dr Haenssgen highlighted how the survey research teams in Southeast Asia witnessed traditional healing experiences but could not capture these practices through the project’s conventional research methods (questionnaires and interviews). Under the supervision of Ern Charoenboon, the team explored photography as an alternative way to generate knowledge. The result was a new and unforeseen perspective that highlighted subtle contradictions and tensions in global health policy and research:
“As drug resistance becomes a global health priority that threatens to cause millions of deaths every year, policy makers are exploring new ways to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and other antimicrobials,” Dr Haenssgen recalls. “One of the seemingly modern policy responses in Thailand is to offer herbal and non-medicinal alternatives for antibiotic treatment, for example when people have a sore throat. Tales of Treatment documented that this herbal treatment for sore throats had been practised for centuries, but was increasingly marginalised by the expansion of modern Western medicine in Thailand. One wonders, does the survival of modern medicine then depend on the traditional treatment that it had crowded out over the years? At the same time, the prescription of capsules of herbal medicine as an alternative to antibiotics is considered problematic among some anthropologists. Their argument is that the “pharmaceuticalisation” – meaning the prescription of capsules of herbal medicine – reduces more comprehensive traditional treatment to an impersonal transaction. However, we learned from our stories that traditional herbalists themselves use capsules, too, and for very pragmatic reasons – without being agents of Western medical agendas.”
If you missed Tales of Treatment, you can read all the stories at https://warwick.ac.uk/mjhaenssgen/talesoftreatment, and we will continue to exhibit selected photographs at Ramphal building over the summer.
The Tales of Treatment exhibition was supported by the University of Warwick’s Humanities Research Fund, the Global Research Priority on Connecting Cultures, and Global Sustainable Development. “Antibiotics and Activity Spaces” was funded by the Antimicrobial Resistance Cross Council Initiative supported by the seven research councils in partnership with the Department of Health and Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (grant ref. ES/P00511X/1, administered by the UK Economic and Social Research Council).