Concetta Russo

The "difference" that seems to make a difference. Comparative perspectives in medical pluralism

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The scorpion poison has been used in Cuba for years to treat patients with cancer, in order to reduce their pain and the side effects of radiotherapy or chemotherapy. After a popular Italian TV show made a reportage about the Cuban scorpion poison and its goals, escoazul has become part of "materia medica" in two different local societies (the Cuban and the Italian one), where it has developed two different meanings. In this essay, I analyze what the use of escoazul reveals about the society that produces it and the one that, despite difficulties in getting it, makes a remarkable use of it for therapeutic reason. Indeed, if it is true that the act of taking medicine involves more than the embodiment of a substance, and it reproduces health ideology (Nichter & Vuckovic 1994), it is interesting to understand what kind of health ideologies about medical pluralism are reproduced through taking escoazul as a medicine in the Cuban health system, and doing it in Italy, as an alternative strategy of self-medication. The case of escoazul seems to suggest there are two different ways to intend pluralism: one based of the ability (or lack of ability) of the State to handle the coexistence of different medical traditions, the other referred to the dynamic, discontinuous and fragmentary process which involves complex negotiation of social identity and morality, that the anthropology calls "health seeking behaviour" (Kleinman 1980). Finally, I shed light on the idea that medical pluralism has to do with the possibility to make a choice about one's health inside and outside state-regulated categories.


  • Escoazul
  • Traditional Medicine
  • Cuba
  • Italy
  • Health-Seeking Behaviour


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