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Soc Sci Med. 1988;27(4):353-7.

Traditional medicine and the stakes of legitimation in Senegal.

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Institut Santé et Développement, Paris, France.


Traditional medicine has been recently confronted by a new phenomenon in Senegal: the quest for new sources of legitimation. The cases presented here--an association of traditional practitioners, an encyclopedia of traditional knowledge and a controversy on a traditional leprosy center--illustrate the three following points: healers who are the most inclined to search for official recognition are also those who have the weakest traditional legitimacy; actors who claim for official recognition of healers reinforce at the same time their own legitimacy; and these new principles of legitimacy necessitate authorities for legitimation situated outside the scientific world. This Weberian analysis seems more accurate than usual descriptions of traditional medicines to explain the work of redefinition of social boundaries in the medical field. Far from being limited to Senegal, these stakes of legitimation can also be observed in other African countries and even in industrial ones with the question of parallel medicines.

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