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Performative encounters: Performance intervention in marketing health products in Nigeria

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The integration of performance in the sale of medicaments dates back to ancient shamanic practices. The shift from total reliance on healers from the 1960s to new products and models of healthcare delivery saw itinerant salesmen in Nigeria turn the sales of healthcare products into sophisticated participatory performative acts. Historically shamans contextualised healing as performed enactments in which trance, possession, and choreographed actions were important in convincing clients of their pedigree. The performance quotients deployed by shamans were significant in how results were viewed: a strategy that Nigeria's post-civil war (19671970) itinerant medicine salesmen later honed into theatricalised displays. From the early 1970s to 1990s modern itinerant medicine salesmen invaded public transports using a combination of spontaneous dramatisation, role-play, costuming, devised narratives and audience participation to ensure sales. The Nigerian government banned this activity from public transports in the late 1990s, but it persists in other settings. This paper explores the marketing of healthcare as a form of direct theatre (Schechner 1992) and how the deployment of performance to functional intentions results in a unique form of theatricality in which medical products are significant actants (Hilton 1987).
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Keywords: advertising; interaction; medicine sales; performance; performative; sales-performers; shamanism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Northampton.

Publication date: 01 January 2010

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  • The Journal of Applied Arts and Health serves a wide community of artists, researchers, practitioners and policy-makers evidencing the effectiveness of the interdisciplinary use of arts in health and arts for health. It provides a forum for the publication and debate within an interdisciplinary field of arts in healthcare and health promotion. The journal defines 'health' broadly which includes physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, occupational, social and community health.
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