Vermeylen, Saskia (2008) From life force to slimming aid : exploring views on the commodification of traditional medicinal knowledge. Applied Geography, 28 (3). pp. 224-235. ISSN 0143-6228
The commodification of traditional knowledge is a lively topic for academic debate, with opinions ranging from categorical rejection of this process, to views that it could be a liberating act. This debate is often characterised by generalisations and a lack of empirical engagement. This paper presents a case study of the commercialisation of traditional medicinal knowledge of the San in Southern Africa. A scenario survey in 3 communities reveals a range of different views amongst individuals and communities, much of which could be linked to differing local and historic socio-economic factors. Although the survey indicates that commodification is widely accepted, the subsequent use of a ‘life story’ approach to examine the actual commercialisation of the Hoodia (Hoodia Gordonii—a plant with appetite suppressant properties), shows that this acceptance is problematic. San informants reflect on it as a pragmatic choice informed by experiences of deprivation and economic hardship, resulting in a process which changes the cultural meaning of the plant and undermine its traditional healing power for the San themselves.
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