Saving this great Slate article about Deepwater Horizon (and the recently released movie) for later …
“The blowout of BP’s Macondo Prospect well was a case study in how a series of small mistakes and misjudgments, when not caught in time, can snowball into catastrophe.”
“The reality is that both BP and Transocean had grown dangerously overconfident and were pushing too close to the edge. Perhaps overly impressed by the team’s good safety record, federal regulators routinely rubber-stamped the BP/Transocean proposals. Moreover, despite claims to the contrary, none of the drilling companies in the Gulf had a workable scheme to cope with a massive oil spill. The entire industry had succumbed to risk creep: Over the decades, drillers gradually moved into deeper waters and sunk wells that involved much greater internal pressures and hazards. The technologies and regulations originally developed for shallow waters were updated in response, but not to a degree commensurate with the growing risks. So, even as drillers were getting more proficient, disaster was becoming more, not less, likely.”
Civil rights are those basic rights needed in order to participate in the political life of a civil society. In the U.S., these rights are set out in the Constitution and its Amendments. In this country, most people are familiar with the term “civil rights” because of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which was centered on rights for black Americans. Unfortunately, civil rights are still not guaranteed for all people in this country. Pregnant women are particularly victimized.
The New York Times published an Op-Ed on pregnancy and civil rights this weekend. It makes some excellent points. Most important among them: The authors have identified 793 cases in which a pregnant woman was denied her physical liberty. This is, I hope, shocking enough for most readers. But here’s the really incredible part. The scope of this study (part of which was published as a peer-reviewed article last year) includes cases back to 1973 (when Roe v. Wade came down). But 380 of those cases–48% of them!–happened since 2005. In other words, the United States is increasingly, and at a truly alarming rate, denying basic civil rights to pregnant women.
This shouldn’t be a surprise in the wake of an election in which multiple embryonic and fetal personhood measures were on statewide ballots. But, somehow, it’s still getting very little attention. Some of the cases Paltrow and Flavin (the authors of the Op-Ed mentioned above) raise are clearly intended to remedy this:
- A woman arrested on murder charges for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. (Louisiana)
A woman taken prisoner and forced to undergo a Cesarean, for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. (Florida)
A woman forced by a judge to undergo an early Cesarean that ultimately killed her and the 26-week fetus she was carrying. (Washington DC)
These are sensational cases where the actions of the state upon a particular woman are pretty clearly wrong, regardless of political leaning. I understand Paltrow and Flavin’s rationale for focusing on these cases–they’re persuasive, and they focus on physical liberty. These authors had to limit their scope somehow; this is not a critique of them or their work. However, I’m nervous about this message because it leaves a lot of things out of the conversation. It leaves a full discussion of the civil rights of pregnant women unsaid. Physical liberty is important, yes. But pregnant women–like other human beings–also have a right to basic safety. They have a right to life, liberty, privacy, protection from discrimination, freedom of thought, freedom of expression.
And there are a lot more than 793 women since 1973 who’ve had their civil rights infringed–trampled!–if we consider the full spectrum of rights that we offer to other humans. Somebody should be talking about this.
I’ve been doing some research into women’s healthcare lately, and some of my best finds have been from old-school shopping the stacks at the library. Here are some (lightly organized) notes on the edited collection Silent Invaders: Pesticides, Livelihoods and Women’s Health. This text gives a nuanced history of conversations about pesticides and health, with a special focus on women’s health and much attention to a variety of contexts throughout the world. Many chapters reference the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which are good places to start in understanding the regulation of pesticide use.
Marion Moses says the book’s focus is largely on toxicology and epidemiology, (as well as endocrine disruptors). She gives a useful history of the use of pesticides, with significant discussion of the process of resistance and secondary outbreaks. She references Carson’s Silent Spring as the first time the pesticide industry faced any significant criticsm. Further, she argues that “A ‘risk assessment’ ritual language emerged with predictable and stereotypical views” pointing to beliefs in objective science (p. 4). Contextual information like whether workers could afford protective clothing were largely ignored.
I’ve been working on a project about healthcare communication after the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, and it looks like I’ll be focusing on the relationships between economy and healthcare rhetorics. Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Marjorie Levine-Clark’s Beyond the Reproductive Body: The Politics of Women’s Health and Work in Early Victorian England; while I wasn’t surprised to find thought-provoking material there, I have been excited and intrigued by how very relevant many of her findings are to my work on Deepwater.
Specifically, I’ve been interested that most of the health-related materials I’ve found related to my research have to do with children or pregnant women. It’s not surprising, then, that Levine-Clark argues that in Early Victorian English, the able body was male and the reproductive body was female; “these models of embodiment did battle in the discussions about what to do to reform the English social body” and, she says, “they also collided in working women’s perceptions of their own bodies” (p. 5). That is, working women contested the notion that their sex meant they were inherently not able-bodied.
Official narratives ran counter to these working women’s understandings of themselves. Continue reading
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.