Slow Medicine in Fast Times: Tibetan Medical Responses to Disaster

By Sienna Craig (8 December 2015, Paris)

This seminar is part of the lecture series "Global Health: Knowledge, Infrastructures, Politics", held at the EHESS in Paris from October 2015 to June 2016. 


Nepal Earthquake 2015 01It is often said that traditional medicine, including Tibetan medicine, succeeds in the treatment of chronic conditions, whereas biomedicine is a better option for acute care. Such a distinction is raised not only by biomedical practitioners and patients but also by Tibetan physicians. Indeed, it is part of how Tibetan medical ‘neo-traditionalism’ (Pordié 2008) operates. However, this framework is incomplete and limited. The limitations of this dichotomy become particularly apparent when considering health care needs that are biological, psychological, and social. Such health care needs present in particular ways during states of emergency, such as natural disasters. While multinational biomedical institutions have only relatively recently begun to acknowledge a ‘bio-psycho-social’ framework, arguably this type of understanding has been long present in the practice of Tibetan medicine. Even so, determining how, where, and to what ends to deploy traditional medicine in such moments remains debated in global health circles and under-represented in scholarship. This paper uses ethnographic examples of the role that Tibetan medicine has played in response to earth- quakes in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, China (2010), and in Nepal this year (2015) to suggest a rethinking of what traditional medicine is ‘good for’ within the context of emergency response.

Short film exploring the use of traditional Tibetan medicine as part of reconstruction efforts following Nepal's 2015 earthquake.

Extra reading


Sienna Craig (Dartmouth College)


Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), salle 015, bât. Le France, 190-198 av de France 75013 Paris.


Date and time

8 December 2015, 2-5 pm