Langwick wins grant to study African law

Stacey Langwick

Cornell anthropologist Stacey Langwick has been awarded a significant grant to further her research on the modernization of traditional medicine in Tanzania.

Langwick, associate professor of anthropology, recently won a two-year, $234,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. She'll use the funds to examine the shifting forms of ownership and rights to knowledge of traditional medicine that have emerged from new global intellectual property policies.

Langwick hypothesizes that scientists and scientific institutions investigating traditional medicine in Africa are innovating new, sustainable forms of intellectual property as international legal policies are reformulating what counts as innovation and new knowledge in Africa and elsewhere.

She'll examine the ways that two research centers in Tanzania are interpreting, applying and reworking global intellectual property policies during their research into traditional medicines. Using an ethnographic approach, Langwick aims to identify new forms of collaboration emerging among traditional healers, patients, scientists, scientific institutions and private companies in the name of modernizing traditional medicine. She also hopes to account for the relationship between property and health that is inherent in the research centers' visions of sustainable health. And she plans to describe the forms of publicly held knowledge that those organizations are imagining in efforts to develop traditional medicine with the goal of contributing to sustainable health.

Langwick plans to write a book, based on this research, about African science's multifaceted engagement with traditional knowledge, the emerging cultures of intellectual property in the developing world, and institutional, national, regional and global efforts to produce manage and protect indigenous therapeutic knowledge. She also plans to publish articles in legal and scientific journals.

The research will have broader implications. By co-publishing with her Tanzanian colleagues, Langwick hopes to help bring African voices into legal and scientific debates where they are not often heard. In addition, the project includes a range of educational and capacity-building initiatives, she said. "This project will bring African ways of knowing and innovating into emerging legal debates on property, public domain and commonly held knowledge in an effort to catalyze new possibilities for the protection of plant life and communal knowledge derived from plant life," Langwick said.

The research is also supported by Cornell's Institute for the Social Sciences and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

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