General Anthropology Division
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Based on ethnographic and oral history research at an herbal medicine research center in the West African nation of Ghana, I argue that laboratory research helps enact models of the postcolonial nation, and that these models have changed through time. At the time of its founding in the 1970s, Ghana’s Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine was understood to contribute to the building of a postcolonial nation. Employees of the Centre recalled its participation efforts to build a national science, where scientific research contributed to the construction of a unified, sovereign nation. State-sponsored investigations of plant medicine therefore became a site through which the nation was encountered and enacted. However, the encounter between the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine and the knowledge of healing plants reveal not one, but multiple possible relations between healing, science, the nation, and the state. The early history of the Centre at Mampong exemplified the emergence of a mid-twentieth century ethos of science, where the development of scientific institutions were meant to represent and sustain the sovereignty of the post-colonial nation. However, it soon shifted to slightly different form of imagined community. Rather than define the nation through a unified national culture shaped by the state, it organized national belonging through participation in a national market. Nations and their relationships with the state are not stable social phenomena, but may rather take multiple forms based on the local and historical contexts in which they are mobilized.