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Mixed Medicines

Health and Culture in French Colonial Cambodia

Mixed Medicines

Health and Culture in French Colonial Cambodia

During the first half of the twentieth century, representatives of the French colonial health services actively strove to expand the practice of Western medicine in the frontier colony of Cambodia. But as the French physicians ventured beyond their colonial enclaves, they found themselves negotiating with the plurality of Cambodian cultural practices relating to health and disease. These negotiations were marked by some success, a great deal of misunderstanding, and much failure.

Bringing together colorful historical vignettes, social and anthropological theory, and quantitative analyses, Mixed Medicines examines these interactions between the Khmer, Cham, and Vietnamese of Cambodia and the French, documenting the differences in their understandings of medicine and revealing the unexpected transformations that occurred during this period—for both the French and the indigenous population.

280 pages | 19 halftones, 4 line drawings, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

History of Science



Mixed Medicines is just the sort of book that the field of colonial medicine has been clamoring for. It offers much more than a study of the imposition of French colonial medicine on the Khmer people of Cambodia; it shows us why people ‘mix’ health care practices in ways that make sense to them but baffle others. This brilliant book will inform scholars and policymakers alike.”

Ken Alder, Northwestern University

Mixed Medicines is the first book ever written by a historian entirely focusing on medicine in colonial Cambodia. The exhaustive analysis of the archives in both France and Cambodia provides a unique insight into the various medical practices undertaken by the French protectorate. Sokhieng Au’s theoretical position moves beyond traditional academic research on colonialism by showing what is really colonial about public health policies enacted by those in power, as well as by drawing attention to the cultural and political processes, which were not always colonial, that separated individual freedom from coercion.”

Anne Yvonne Guillou, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

“Skillfully crafted and strongly argued, Mixed Medicines intervenes forcefully in multiple fields of scholarship. It provides a strikingly original and exhaustively researched history of the social, cultural, and institutional history of medicine in colonial Cambodia and offers a learned critique of conventional academic theories of globalization and cultural change. Southeast Asianists, medical anthropologists, and historians of science will find copious food for thought in this rich and elegant book.”

Peter Zinoman, University of California, Berkeley

“A fascinating account of two very different cultures and their often clashing approaches to medicine and health care. Au provides insights into the social and cultural history of Cambodia and Southeast Asia that no previous book has offered us before.”

Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Scholars will appreciate the intricacy of Au’s theoretical claims. Recommended.”

E. J. Peters | Choice

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

ONE / Settings
TWO / Collusions and Conflict
THREE / The Politics and Pragmatics of Managing Health
FOUR / Social Medicine
FIVE / Prostitutes and Mothers
SIX / Civilized Lepers
SEVEN / Cultural Insolubilities


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