Tag Archives: medical rhetoric

Notes on Wendy Mitchinson’s Body Failure: Medical Views of Women, 1900-1950. University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Mitchinson chronicles the history of how the male body was understood as normal and the female body was understood as abnormal, weak, prone to breakdown in the first half of the twentieth century in Canada. What follows are selected quotations and some contextualizing notes.

The first chapter on “Woman’s Place” takes up historical arguments based in medicine and health (and, implicitly, reproductive capacity and fertility) about women’s employment, eating habits, exercise, fashion. The author points out that female sexual organs are naturally better protected than male sexual organs, and yet physicians only seemed to express concern over female fertility in most of these areas.

“I see medicine as a bedrock of societal norms, sometimes in their creation and more often in their maintenance” (p. 8).

Continue reading

Computers and Writing!

I’m SO excited for the 2015 Computers and Writing Conference. I’m presenting with some super-smart women (Angela Haas, Kristin Arola, Michelle Eble), and I’ll be talking about how aesthetics bridge cognition and sense perception (look u Anne Wysocki’s recent work for more on that) in medical contexts. Some questions I hope to raise include:

  • How do computer-based artifacts such as patient-accessible records or the sonogram image function aesthetically?
  • How does this process influence access to and understanding of  treatments?
  • How do such objects influence diagnoses and/or doctor-patient relationships? 
  • How might we intervene in these perceptions and invent new uses of computerized data to more effectively bridge the cognition and sensory work done by our bodies?

 

Pay gap still exists in care fields …

The gender wage gap is a hot topic, and there are a number of usual responses to explain it away. One of the most common is that women tend to choose the sorts of careers that are lower-paying–usually “caring” professions like nursing and teaching. However, this recent article reporting on a study published in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) roundly refutes that notion. That study, which included data on 290,000 registered nurses over a 25-year period, found:

  • “Male nurses make $5,100 more on average per year than female colleagues in similar positions”
  • The pay gap did not narrow between 1988 and 2013
  • The gap varied across specialties,  with male cardiology nurses making $6,000 more than females in the same position and male nurse anesthetists making $17,290 more per year than their female counterparts.

Those numbers are pretty shocking. Over a 30-year career, that’s more than half a million dollars that female nurse anesthetists are losing out on. (That’s not even accounting for salary-based raises or interest earned on investments). Thus, it’s clear that the gender wage gap is not a result of women choosing lower-paying “care” careers, since the gap within such a career is still so significant.

Man-made medicine

book coverSeveral chapters in Man-Made Medicine: Women’s Health, Public Policy, and Reform highlight the importance of how both sex and gender affect medical research and understandings of embodiedness. This book takes on the longstanding conflation of women’s health with reproductive health—a frustrating and longstanding truth I mentioned in my last post. The following is perhaps my very favorite quote from this text: “Traditionally women as a group are defined by this reproductive potential. Usually ignored are the many ways that gender as a social reality gets into the body and transforms our biology” (p. 23). We have a lot more thinking to do about how social reality “gets into the body.”

This book also offers histories of medicine in the U.S. from a variety of perspectives, and it argues persuasively that we need to focus not only on the differences between women’s and men’s health, but also on the differences in health among these groups. Women are different from each other. Krieger and Fee argue persuasively for recognizing diversity in women: “[W]e are a mixed lot our gender roles and options shaped by history, culture, and deep divisions across class and color lines” (p. 23). This text also talks about how women’s occupational health was largely ignored for years–and remains understudied.

Moss, Kary L. (1996). Man-made Medicine: Women’s Health, Public Policy, and Reform. Durham: Duke UP.

#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.

Discourses of Health and Medicine

Really had a spectacular time at the Discourses of Health and Medicine Symposium this week. I was impressed by the organization of the event and the friendly atmosphere; it was a great chance to meet lots of smart folks.

The symposium left me pondering some big-picture things. (Which surprised me–I had sort of expected to leave there thinking about smaller issues, like new collaborations and such). This is perhaps because the last session was a discussion of if we (attendees and others who do related work) are an organization, and if so, what we might call ourselves. Unsurprisingly, such a major rhetorical task was impossible to accomplish in a short time frame. However, I did feel that I got a chance to hear a lot about how others situate themselves in relation to some of this sub-field’s key terms. Lots of people seem to identify with the terms “health” and “communication”–but definitely not everyone. There was a definite opinion in the room that the terms “rhetorical” and “critical” affect our work, but that they were not the best choices for explaining ourselves to layperson audiences. A lot of folks seemed to like the suggestion of a working group, and most people seemed to agree that the title should include a focus on “research” or “study of” in order to emphasize that we are mostly working on, rather than creating, medical/health/wellness communication/rhetoric/discourses.

I really look forward to seeing (and, I hope, participating in) some of the discussions and decisions that come out of that discussion and others at the symposium!

Arkansas abortion law

The following is pulled directly from a breaking New York Times story. Notice that ultrasound–a medical digital imaging process that pro-lifers often try to frame as objective–features prominently in the lede. 

“Arkansas adopted what is by far the country’s most restrictive ban on abortion on Wednesday — at 12 weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can typically be detected by abdominal ultrasound.

The law, the sharpest challenge yet to Roe v. Wade, was passed by the newly Republican-controlled legislature over the veto of Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, who called it “blatantly unconstitutional.” The State Senate voted Tuesday to override his veto and the House followed suit on Wednesday, with several Democrats joining the Republican majority.

The law contradicts the limit established by Supreme Court decisions, which give women a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and abortion rights groups promised a quick lawsuit to block it.”

Read the whole story.