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Institut für Biomedizinische Ethik und Medizingeschichte (IBME)

Therapeutic Revolutions (Book Release)

Therapeutic Revolutions. Pharmaceuticals and Social Change in the Twentieth Century.

Edited by JEREMY A. GREENE, FLURIN CONDRAU, and ELIZABETH SIEGEL WATKINS, 320 pages | 4 halftones, 8 line drawings, 5 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016


When asked to compare the practice of medicine today to that of a hundred years ago, most people will respond with a story of therapeutic revolution: Back then we had few effective remedies, but now we have more (and more powerful) tools to fight disease, from antibiotics to psychotropics to steroids to anticancer agents.

This collection challenges the historical accuracy of this revolutionary narrative and offers instead a more nuanced account of the process of therapeutic innovation and the relationships between the development of medicines and social change. These assembled histories and ethnographies span three continents and use the lived experiences of physicians and patients, consumers and providers, and marketers and regulators to reveal the tensions between universal claims of therapeutic knowledge and the actual ways these claims have been used and understood in specific sites, from postwar West Germany pharmacies to twenty-first century Nigerian street markets. By asking us to rethink a story we thought we knew, Therapeutic Revolutions offers invaluable insights to historians, anthropologists, and social scientists of medicine.


Review Quotes

John Harley Warner, Yale University School of Medicine

“Provocative and compelling, this engrossing collection presses us to think hard about what is at stake in speaking about the therapeutic changes of the mid-twentieth century as a therapeutic revolution, what interests are served and cultural work performed by scripting stories of the coming of medical modernity as narratives of revolution, and how such storytelling—popular, professional, and scholarly—obscures understanding of pharmacotherapeutics, social change, and social efficacy in the past and for the future. Therapeutic Revolutions is thoroughly engaging and powerfully consequential.”

Keith Wailoo, Princeton University

“This is a wonderful, insightful, and wide-ranging collection examining how medicine changes, for whom, and how differently the promise of a therapeutic revolution has played out over the years and across the globe.”