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Potent Plants, Cool Hearts: a landscape of healing in Laos

Elliott, Elizabeth M.; (2021) Potent Plants, Cool Hearts: a landscape of healing in Laos. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis maps a landscape of healing in southern lowland Laos, demonstrating how traditional medicine and health practices engage with and occur within the local environment, set against the wider socio-political landscape. Rural fieldwork conducted with traditional healers, villagers and health staff in Champasak province utilised methods from anthropology and ethnopharmacology, and included work within state institutions. In rural Laos, traditional medicine use is commonly a response to chronic illness, as part of complex trajectories of care. Its popularity is strongly influenced both by social and familial connections and trust in practitioners associated with their reputation and positive experiences of the therapeutic encounter. Good health necessitates strengthening the blood and body boundaries to prevent illness, and attention to the mental-emotional and spiritual state. Social wellbeing and networks of care are also integral to regaining health; this is enacted during the soul-calling ceremony, a popular ritual for wellbeing. Traditional medicine forms are heterogeneous and localised, operating primarily outside the formal healthcare context, without a prominent power hierarchy with biomedicine and state regulation. Concurrently, Lao medical practices and knowledge can be situated within intersecting and layered medical and religious landscapes of Southeast, East and South Asia. Characteristics of the Lao healers’ medicines include the collection of fresh plant materials in the wild, preparation methods such as grinding raw woody parts into water, the use of unique herbal formulae, blowing techniques and mantra. Whilst tacit knowledge of medicinal plants among rural people arises through social relations and correspondences between plant names and illness forms, the healers’ knowledge is transmitted in specific forms. In treating illness such as fever, healers formulate a complete treatment based on symptom patterns. To ensure potency, the healers follow the logic of phitsanu, which frames efficacy through sources of spiritual power based in local cosmologies, and draw on natural forces such as van plants and astrology. They must thus regulate their actions to protect themselves and their patients from harm.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Potent Plants, Cool Hearts: a landscape of healing in Laos
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10126896
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