Laurence Kirmayer describes the difficulties that placebos raise for biomedicine, where explanatory narratives are mechanistic in such as way as to demand direct chemical or physical impact to be seen as causal. Thinking through placebo and healing rituals he comes to the conclusion that “The term ‘placebo’ names a social situation not a substance.”
We agree! Here is another place where our concept of placebos as verbs gets further traction.
For more on Kirmayer’s work, see “Unpacking the placebo response: insights from ethnographic studies of healing” in Placebo Talks (eds. Raz & Harris), Oxford University Press. 2016.