Ethno-Science Guest Lectures: Graham Dutfield and Helen Tilley

Tuesday 14 June 2022 | 3pm-6pm UK Time | Bradfield Room in Darwin College, Cambridge or online via Zoom

We are thrilled to close this year's activities with the Ethno-Science reading group with two guest lectures in hybrid format.

15:00 - 16:00: Graham Dutfield (University of Leeds)
The Beyond Intellectual Property Moment in Historical Context

16:00 - 17:00: Helen Tilley (Northwestern University)
Traditional Medicine Goes Global Pan-African Precedents, Cultural Decolonisation, and Cold War Rights/Properties

17:00 - 18:00: Discussion with audiences

Attendance is free but spaces may be limited, so please email Dr Raphael Uchôa ( if you're interested in joining in person. If you are interested in attending virtually via Zoom, please email Samantha Peel (

Graham Dutfield: The Beyond Intellectual Property Moment in Historical Context

In 1996, a book called 'Beyond Intellectual Property' was published by International Development Research Centre. A law book written by two people entirely unschooled in law, this was hardly a world-changing event. The book was very much of its time, being published soon after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which itself came five centuries to the year after a rather more noteworthy event. That said, talking about the book, not so much what it contains, but about why it was written at all and during the decade it was, can reveal much about a specific moment in time that the book, at least in part, captures. Ten years earlier, this book would never have been written; ten years later it is unlikely it would have been needed. That this book is so much of its time testifies perhaps to a certain uniqueness of the era in which it was produced. As we will see, intellectually, legally, and politically shifts were taking place and interacting with each other in some quite remarkable ways. Certain individuals played a big part in this, and nobody did more than the book’s main author Darrell Posey. For Darrell, the book was a logical and hugely compelling extension both of his scientific work on the ethno-ecological practices of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, and of his environmental activism. In the end, there was no revolution as such; a five hundred-year legacy is not so easy to counteract. But change did take place and it’s possible the era the book represents did lead to improvements in the status of Indigenous peoples.

Helen Tilley: Traditional Medicine Goes Global: Pan-African Precedents, Cultural Decolonisation, and Cold War Rights/Properties

The concept of traditional medicine, for all its multifaceted roots, achieved global prominence only during the Cold War era in the wake of massive decolonisation. While developments within Asia contributed to this shift, it was often leaders and diplomats from newly independent African countries who first put different aspects of traditional medicine forward for debate within United Nations agencies. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU), along with several other pan-African initiatives, paved the way for this work, tying the continent’s cultural heritage to its medical heritage and pushing for its “cultural property” to be protected as intellectual property. These goals were both precedent setting and inherently fraught: they gave states more tacit power to act as gatekeepers for those labeled “traditional healers” (who often referred to themselves by different terms entirely and had ambivalent relationships to state authorities). Diplomats also promoted an ethos that endogenous experts’ “know-how” was a public good and the preserve of governments, rather than private capital. This article reconstructs a central strand in the story of how traditional medicine went global, paying special attention to pan-African networks’ radical foreign policy agendas. These ultimately ensured that global institutions, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), opened their doors to polyglot therapeutics (or different conceptual schemas to define health and illness) and promoted the idea that heterodox healers were integral to people’s rights to health. Though pan-African initiatives were unable to overturn deeply entrenched power imbalances or enact their full agenda, they did have lasting legal, policy, and epistemic effects that continue to reverberate around the world to this day.

Graham Dutfield is Professor of International Governance at the School of Law, University of Leeds.

He has worked for several decades in governance of technology, knowledge and property in the context of such major global challenges as public health, food security, biodiversity conservation, ecosystems management, and climate change.

His research on intellectual property crosses several disciplines, including law, history, politics, economics and anthropology. More general scholarly interests include the law, science and business of creativity and technical innovation from the enlightenment to the present, especially in the life sciences. Other research areas include intellectual property and access to knowledge, human rights, sustainable development, health, agriculture, genetics, biotechnology, traditional knowledge and folklore, bioprospecting, and indigenous peoples' rights.

Helen Tilley is Associate Professor of History and Law at Northwestern University.

Her research examines medical, environmental, and human sciences in colonial and post-colonial Africa, including their synergies with legal, economic, and global history. She is the author of Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870–1950, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Her current project focuses on the history of African decolonisation, global governance, and the ethno-scientific projects that accompanied state building in the colonial and Cold War era. She is investigating, in particular, the different scientific studies and legal interventions in the twentieth century that originally helped to construct 'traditional medicine' as a viable category of research and policy-making.