Tag Archives: bodies

#CritMH

I was honored to attend the 1st International Critical Medical Humanities Symposium (put on by Durham University’s Centre for the Medical Humanities) this past week. I found the general spirit of the conference to be productive and exciting. Participants seemed eager for interdisciplinary and collaborative work. Further, people were willing to ask and work through hard questions. Below are a few of the productive questions I’m still pondering that came out of this experience. I offer them in the approximate order they appear in my notes, which corresponds roughly to the order of the plenary speakers—though, of course, there is significant overlap. Plenary speakers were: Andrew Goffey (U of Nottingham), Bronwyn Parry (Kings College London), Mel Y. Chen (U.C. Berkeley), Jan Slaby (Freie Universitat Berlin), and Lynne Friedli (Centre for Welfare Reform) & Rob Stearn (Birkbeck College).

  • How do metaphors limit our thinking about what is possible in medicine and the medical humanities?
  • What happens when metaphors go bad? (Example: foreign bodies as illegal immigrants)
  • What gaps/opportunities in current medical humanities scholarship aremost pressing?
  • What do we do with anti-intellectual responses to this field?
  • What happens when a logic is extended and generally applied, and in what ways can we disrupt such moves when necessary?
  • What happens when life science researchers don’t pay attention to the economy?
  • How much is it necessary to understand a thing in order to make use of it? (related concepts: distributed knowledge, efficiency, trust)
  • What are the connotative differences between knowing, understanding, experiencing? (see Foucault, Latour)
  • In our pursuit of more efficient accounts that include knowledge, understanding, and experience, what methods are useful? For example, what might a collaborative history look like?
  • How can we engage metaphors to make as well as describe the world? How can we overcome the tendency of metaphors to close problems?
  • What does it mean to labor?
  • What is clinical labor? Must corporeality be exploited as part of clinical labor? Is it clinical labor if it is done at home?
  • What does it mean to be labeled a victim, and in what contexts might we challenge claims to (distributed/complex) bodily agency?
  • What are the ethical implications of applications for reproduction? (Context: California Cryo accepts only about 1% of those who apply to be sperm donors. Height—being at least 5’9’’—and sexual orientation—being straight—are among the limiting criteria.)
  • Who do reproductive institutions serve, and who is allowed to participate?
  • How do contractual modes of clinical labor differ? Why do we perceive some as acceptable and others not?
  • What does the juxtaposition of female (surrogacy) and male (sperm donation) clinical labor do to the way we think about labor? Are this analogous?
  • What sort of term might account for the agency of the subaltern?
  • What happens when the borders blur between altruism and commerce?
  • Who gets left out of framing discussions of biotechnologies?
  • What makes the sustained transformation of the body during pregnancy different (elevated above) than other sorts of sustained bodily transformation? (say, a factory worker whose body is wrecked by her job)
  • Does DNA, if extracted, constitute labor?
  • How is labor complicated when placed in relationship with care/affection/nurturing?
  • What are the relationships between the terms “medicine” and “global health”?
  • Isn’t there always danger in representing bodies that are (geographically, linguistically, etc.) unable to speak back?
  • What would it mean for ability studies if we took a stance neutral to the toxic?
  • How are toxic substances anthropomorphized and what effects does this have?
  • How does a reading of toxic zones change our understanding of what toxicity is?
  • What does the knee-jerk repulsion that represents an interhuman politics of rejection signal about our understandings of toxicity?
  • In what ways have environmental justice movements been complicit in ableism?
  • What can activism do when we think in counterintuitive ways?
  • How can we disentangle notions of damage from the hegemony of health discourse?
  • Should we be careful of giving too much credence to a metaphor?
  • How are cases of “improper intimacy” stigmatized? By what processes? How do rhetorics of risk affect this situation?
  • What of the relationships between toxicity, disease, and immunity? Does a politics of exposure come into play here?
  • How do we determine thresholds for toxicity? (How many ppm, or what symptoms = toxic?)
  • Where does experience fit in the divide between knowing and believing?
  • What are the planes on which we can reconceptualize/reminage life?
  • How do ethical and economic intermingle productively?
  • What is technoscience? Does technology drive science? In what ways?
  • In what ways is risk conflated with probability?
  • What does it mean that some new imaging practices focus more on the ephemereal?
  • Can/does neuroscience deny free will and yet accept plasticity?
  • In what ways is the power of biomedicine lessened in mental health contexts, and what does this mean?
  • What does it mean to be engaged in the non-material interest? How to engage an audience?
  • How do sociology and medicine conversate?
  • What is the difference between disciplining and facilitating in contexts where power relations are highly assymetrical?
  • Why is anxiety about taking risks necessarily a bad thing?
  • How do we respond to an apparent reduction in political activism?
  • How can we most productively participate in the shift from clinical experience to social justice?
  • What does a critical, collective practice look like?

Additionally, here is a reading/resources list I’m developing based on the symposium. (Forgive my MLA; I wanted to keep full names here.)

  • Aristarkhova, I. Hospitality of the Matrix: Philosophy, Biomedicine, and Culture. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Print.
  • Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. St Albans, Australia: Paladin, 1973. Print.
  • “Centre for Medical Humanities Blog.” Centre for Medical Humanities Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2013. <http://medicalhumanities.wordpress.com/>.
  • Chen, Mel Y. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. Print.
  • Cohen, Ed. A Body worth Defending: Immunity, Biopolitics, and the Apotheosis of the Modern Body. Durham, N.C: Duke UP, 2010. Print.
  • Cooper, Melinda. Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era. Seattle: University of Washington, 2008. Print.
  • “Cost of Living: The Politics, Economics and Sociology of Health and Health Care.” Cost Of Living. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2013. <http://www.cost-ofliving.net/>.
  • Dumit, Joseph. Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. Print.
  • Martin, Emily. Flexible Bodies: Trading Immunity in American Culture, from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1995. Print.
  • Parry, Bronwyn. Trading the Genome: Investigating the Commodification of Bio-information. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. Print.
  • Silverstein, Arthur M. Paul Ehrlich’s Receptor Immunology: The Magnificent Obsession. San Diego: Academic, 2002. Print.
  • Stengers, Isabelle. The Invention of Modern Science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2000. Print.
  • Stengers, Isabelle. Cosmopolitics I: I. The Science Wars : II. The Invention of Mechanics : III. Thermodynamics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2010. Print.
  • Weitz, Rose. The Sociology of Health, Illness, and Health Care: A Critical Approach. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2013. Print.
Advertisements

Moral Mondays

I have not attended a Moral Monday protest here in NC (yet). I’ve been trying to clear my head and take a break from work in advance of hitting it hard during my first year as an assistant professor (yay!). But I can’t help but check in on things once in a while via the web, and I also can’t help but post my favorite protest signs. (These are shamelessly borrowed from various places including the Moral Monday Facebook page and various news media sites. I post them in the spirit of getting out the message; they are not mine.)

enhanced-buzz-14936-1375149156-9My partner is an elementary school teacher. If he is able to get a job in his field, it will likely result in a >$10,000 pay cut for him. That’s coming from Illinois, a state well-known for being a giant financial mess.

ImageI’m not usually a big fan of progress narratives (we can talk about efficiency here; efficiency and progress for whom?). But this, I like. 🙂 (And if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen it, here’s the referent that makes this sign funny.)

ImageYeah. I guess this one doesn’t really need my commentary. Although there are a lot of interesting ways to  use this message as inspiration for illustrative examples …

 

Oh, the irony

I recently taught a course on Women, Gender and Society. As part of my prep for that class, I did some research on the ways mass media images are digitally altered. I found great resources, including some excellent videos like this one:

And I also found, you know, other stuff. Like the pop-up ad on the bottom of this video (this is a screenshot image). We have a ways to go.

Screen capture of misplaced advertisement

Screen capture of misplaced advertisement

Re-branding Merida

When Disney came out with the movie Brave, I loved it. That’s probably not surprising. I identify with the heroine, Merida, on the levels of appearance and heritage, for one thing. But, more importantly, writer Brenda Chapman is from my home county of just 30,000 people. And, even better, this is one of only a few “fairy tales” I’ve ever witnessed where the heroine’s ultimate happy ending does NOT come in the form of a guy.

And then THIS happened.

just-what-braves-princessnbspmerida-needed-a-sexy-makeover

This image showing the sexualization of Merida is borrowed from Monika Bartyzel’s story in The Week, which is linked below.

I liked her so much better when she was spunky, independent, and NOT oozing sex appeal.

Continue reading

On Being Included

book cover

“Diversity is regularly referred to as a ‘good’ word precisely because it can be used in diverse ways, or even because it does not have a referent.” –Sara Ahmed, On Being Included, p. 80

On Being Included is one of those books that took over my life. It seemed like, for a while, I inserted this text into just about every conversation I had. “Oh, that’s similar to what Sara Ahmed talks about when she says … ” Maybe it’s because I want people to associate me with this brilliant author!  It’s also partially because this book is really smart about dealing with the ways that terms–specifically, diversity–are taken up within the institution (and she does a neat job of thinking through what institution means) and used to obscure particular kinds of work. Although diversity is the term Ahmed deals with most directly in this text (she also discusses racism later in the book), I found that many of her observations and arguments were also applicable to the term feminism, and I found a lot in this text that helped me to think about my dissertation project.

On the very first page, Ahmed suggests that some terms, like diversity, make possible “the departure of other (perhaps more critical) terms, including ‘equality,’ ‘equal opportunities,’ and ‘social justice'” (p. 1). Because I situate apparent feminism as an approach to social justice, I am particularly interested in the ways Ahmed sees diversity as a term that reduces our use of the term social justice. Also, I might add feminism to the list she offers. So, the question I am left with is this: In what ways might usages of the term diversity prevent us (academics, those within the institution) from making social justice and feminism apparent? And, equally important: What other important critical terms might be obscured by our uses of social justice and/or feminism? This is something I think through a bit in my final chapter, but it’s also a question I imagine I will be asking for some time.

A passage of particular importance to me in thinking about my decision to base my work around the term feminism comes when Ahmed talks about the “political efficacy”–I might say efficiency–of the term diversity. “I arrived to the research presuming that the emptiness of diversity was a sign of its lack of political value and  utility. But the political efficacy of this word was related by some practitioners to its emptiness” (p. 79). Ahmed suggests that this emptiness means diversity can be defined in a variety of ways, and this “challenges a world that refuses variety, a world that considers isues onlly from a singular viewpoint.  . . . The very lack of referentiality becomes a certain starting point for a critique of how some viewpoints are given a referential function” (p. 79).  In advocating apparent feminism, I hope to sponsor the sorts of conversations that Ahmed is talking about, conversations that are inclusive and that critique singular, “objective” presumptions about “empty” terms.

Read more!

Paying (critical) attention to advertising

Just some food for thought for today.

The Right to Choose

I just spotted this headline on CNN.com: “Surrogate mother had right to choose.” (If you need the background for this short opinion piece, go here. The short version, though, is that a surrogate mother refused to abort her pregnancy when the parents asked her to.) While I certainly don’t agree with everything Dan O’Connor has to say about this issue, I do think he introduces some smart nuances to this debate.

The most interesting to me is this: “The problem stems from our conflicted understanding of what we mean when we say a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body.” While this is very smart it come ways, it also underscores a really problematic assumption. O’Connor–like most people–seems to assume that a woman in the modern U.S. does indeed HAVE choices about her body. This is something Rickie Solinger‘s politics of choice thoroughly refutes. Women may have “choices,” but they are severely limited and influenced by oppressive systemic forces of law, politics, social pressures, and economics.

This politics of choice is also something that O’Connor gets at in a roundabout way. Consider this quotation: “Like most surrogates, [Kelley] is not financially well-off; note the distinct lack of fully employed, millionaire surrogate mothers.” Here, O’Connor gets it exactly right. Kelley may have “chosen” to be a surrogate, but that was a choice that was heavily influenced by her economic circumstances. One might consider a poor woman’s decision to become a surrogate less a choice than an act of survival or desperation.

Continue reading