Doctors and Healers
Doctors and Healers
Translated by Stephen Muecke

We think we know what healers do: they build on patients’ irrational beliefs and treat them in a ‘symbolic’ way. If they get results, it’s thanks to their capacity to listen, rather than any influence on a clinical level. At the same time, we also think we know what modern medicine is: a highly technical and rational process, but one that scarcely listens to patients at all.

In this book, ethnopsychiatrist Tobie Nathan and philosopher Isabelle Stengers argue that this commonly posed opposition between traditional and modern medicine is misleading. They show instead that healers are interesting <i>precisely</i> because they don’t listen to patients, using techniques of ‘divination’ rather than ‘diagnosis’. Healers construct genuine therapeutic strategies by identifying the origins of symptoms in external forces, outside of the mind of the sufferer, and in this regard African healers are virtuosos. Though it may claim otherwise, modern medicine, for its part, is characterised by empiricism rather than rationality. What appears to be the pursuit of rationality is ultimately only a means to dismiss and exclude other forms of treatment.

Blurring the distinctions between traditional and modern practices and drawing on perspectives from across the globe, this ethnopsychiatric manifesto encourages us to think in radically new ways about illness, challenging accepted notions on the relationship between sufferer and symptom. It will be of great interest to those working in medicine and healthcare, as well as anthropologists, social scientists and those in the humanities more broadly.

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  • May 2018
  • 206 pages
  • 138 x 216 mm / 5 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $64.95
  • 9781509521852
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  • 9781509521869
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  • 9781509521890
Table of Contents

Editor’s Note

1. Towards a Scientific Psychopathology - Tobie Nathan

I. The Benefits of Folk Therapy

Scientific Therapy and Folk Therapy


Diagnostics or Divination

Statistical Categories vs. Real Cultural Groups

The Construction of Truth

Risky Psychopathology

A Clinical Illustration

Continuation of the Consultation

II. Medicines in Non-Western Cultures

Prolegomena on Thought and Belief

The Idea of the Symbol

The White Man’s Medicines

Thought is in Objects

Concepts of the Savage Mind

Active Objects

In Conclusion

2. The Doctor and the Charlatan - Isabelle Stengers

Recovering for the Wrong Reasons

The Power of Experimentation

Who defines the causes?

A Practical Challenge

3. Users: Lobbies or Political Creativity? - Isabelle Stengers

Is another kind of medicine possible?

Disease mongering

A machine


Hands Off!

4. Doctors, Healers, Therapists, the Sick, Patients, Subjects, Users…- Tobie Nathan


The Sick






About the Author

Tobie Nathan is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the Université Paris-VIII.

Isabelle Stengers is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

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‘The translation of this collaboration between two leading European thinkers about psychopathology and therapeutic process gives us access to a challenging way of thinking about the relation between health and the holy, medicine and the sacred, science and religion, rationality and irrationality, psychotherapy and psychopharmacology – all in a way that will be of immediate value for those concerned with psychiatric anthropology, cultural psychiatry, and global mental health.’
Thomas Csordas, University of California San Diego

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