What does it mean to mark the pharmaceutical as an object of ethnographic inquiry? At once a mass-produced medical technology, a unit of symbolic exchange between doctor and patient, and an ambiguous object of fascination and anxiety, the pharmaceutical seems to move freely between multiple registers of analysis. As such, the pharmaceutical can act as a focusing lens for larger anthropological questions regarding political economy, diagnostic and prescriptive practices within the space of the clinic and under the sign of medical authority, and the wider relationship between human subjectivity and the demands of the material.
The discipline of anthropology is uniquely suited to engage with this multidimensionality, and we will draw upon texts from various disciplinary subfields as we explore the many places of the pharmaceutical within the ethnographic tradition. We will begin with readings addressing the pharmaceutical as a product of mass production and marketing, continue with a group of readings about the values and associations of the pharmaceutical in the context of medical practice, and close with a series of meditations on the vicissitudes of the psyche and its relationship to the body and world as mediated by the figure of the pharmakon.