Engaging conceptions of identity in a context of medical pluralism: explaining treatment choices for everyday illness in Niger

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Sociology of Heath and Illness

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This article uses ethnographic research to reflect upon how the treatment of 'everyday' illnesses in Niger engages concepts of social identity. Inspired by Bourdieu's concept of social distinction, as well as Appadurai's edited volume on the 'social lives' of 'things', I present an analysis of how medications are understood by their users in terms of social and ideological meaning in one rural Hausa village. Decisions about medication choice were framed by three main themes: belonging to the 'modern' world, 'traditional' Hausa culture, and religious identity. This article does not argue that these notions of identity fully explain medication use, nor necessarily predict treatment choices. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the dynamic meanings given to treatment decisions after they have been made, attributed to the medications themselves and negotiated through their circulation in a context where multiple medical systems are drawn from to manage illness. Producers and sellers of medication also engage these meaning-centred concepts, which have theoretical and practical interest for the social sciences and public health. A virtual abstract for this paper can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_979cmCmR9rLrKuD7z0ycA.