his book has argued that the history of healers in modern Costa
by extension, modern Latin America—is best compre-
hended by dispensing with the idea of a fundamental opposition be-
tween authentic forms of folk medicine or ethno-medicine, on the one
hand, and a colonizing and suspect biomedicine, on the other. I have
stressed instead the complex interchange among a broad range of prac-
titioners, and the role of the state in mediating this exchange. Costa
Rica’s was a heterodox healing culture—one in which different types of
practitioners borrowed liberally from one another to refashion medical
identities and practices. Over time, and particularly by the beginning of
the twentieth century, the heterodoxy of Costa Rican medicine was
reined in under the hegemony of professional medical practitioners
and agents of state medicine who ostensibly promoted a rigorous bio-
medical agenda. Yet they did not homogenize medical practice, nor did
they implement an effective monopoly for schooled and titled practi-
tioners. It might be said that the new official medical apparatus suc-
ceeded in sublimating rather than suppressing key strata of popular
medical practice. The traditional partera was transformed into the
obstetric midwife, the barrio herbalist was transformed into the barrio
pharmacist, the foreign empiric was transformed into the town doctor
on the agricultural frontier, while the village curandero was interpel-
lated into official medicine through the preparation of death certifi-
cates for the modern secular state or reincarnated in the technical
cadre of the new public health apparatus. Meanwhile, a still-thriving
variety of unorthodox and alternative healers continued to operate, as
Previous Page Next Page