15 - Tropical Medicine as a Discipline
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The sub-discipline of tropical medicine furnishes a clear example of the socially constructed character of medical knowledge. Tropical diseases first enter medical discourse as a unique conceptual field and topic for specialization at the end of the 19th century, and the heyday of tropical medicine - from the 1890s to the First World War - corresponds to the golden age of Western colonialism in Africa and Asia. This correspondence was not accidental; tropical medicine both gave practical aid to colonial powers faced with unfamiliar disease environments and furnished a deeply Eurocentric view of disease well-suited to the ideology of colonial expansion. As a consequence of this approach, little attention was given to the social factors of disease (work conditions, poverty, malnutrition), and the health of native populations was largely ignored. Subsequent periods of research in tropical medicine have, with decolonization and infusions of money from American foundations, been obliged to confront the consequences stemming from the discipline's formation as an instrument of colonial subjugation.
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