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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Biomedicalization from the inside out

Alternative title: Biomedikalisering fra innsiden og ut - medisinens befatning med rus, kjønn og kriminalitet gjennom de siste 40 år.

Awarded: NOK 9.6 mill.

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Project Period:

2018 - 2023


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In this historical project, we are exploring changing and at times contested relations between the social and the biological by investigating medical interventions and technologies, as well as their problematisations, in three different case histories (1) histories of trans medicine, (2) histories of problematic drug use (3) histories of psychiatric diagnosis and the law and 4) histories of global social medicine. In the year that has passed since we last wrote this report, two of the phd candidates in the project have successfully defended their thesis. Samuel Scharff defended his dissertation "The Mask of Expertise: Hervey Cleckley, Psychiatry, and Law in 20th Century America” at Hopkins University 1.6.2022 (WP 3), and Ketil Slagstad, defended his thesis "on the boundaries of care. The ephemerality of transgender medicine in the Welfare state, Scandinavia 1951-2001" (WP 2) Ketil Slagstad has now landed a contract with Chicago University Press with a book proposal based on his dissertation. Several important publications have also been published, in central venues such as ISIS. In WP4, Caro Lemmen successfully submitted her master thesis in July on the history of social medicine in education at Utrecht University. In June, we had the BIO projects fourth workshop in Rosendal, with participants from five continents, discussing precirculated papers on "the global histories of social medicine". We are now in the process of making an edited collection, and have submitted a book proposal to Cambridge University Press. Anne Kveim Lie has been disseminating widely to the clinical field, both in terms of digital teaching materials for students and residents, and in the form of opening lectures at two important national meeting points, one for general practitioners and community physicians on the history of social medicine and one on the history of substitution treatment at the LAR conference. Jeremy Greene has published his book The doctor who was'nt there, at the University of Chicago Press. Now we are planning the final conference in the BIO project, which we are doing together as the biannual conference for the European Association for the History of Medicine. We are very satisfied with this arrangement, because it means that about 200 interdisciplinary scholars from all over the world will will work on topics central to the topics (the call for papers is formed with that in mind).

In the 21st century, health problems and their interventions are increasingly understood in biological terms, by patients, families, governments, industry, and other actors well outside the sphere of clinical medicine. Disease causation has shifted to the molecular and genetic level, biomedical expertise and decision-making has been decentralized in an era of public internet access to biomedical publications, and medicine has been increasingly capitalized and corporatized. Sociologists have recently proposed the term “biomedicalization” to describe this shift (Clarke 2010, Clarke et al. 2003). Yet the changing use of biomedical frameworks to explain nature and culture by lay and professional bodies is itself the product of specific historical forces in the 20th and early 21st centuries. In this project, we will study this historical process by exploring the instruments, technologies and practices of biomedicalization across the last fifty years. However, we will do so not by focusing on the history of high-tech fields traditionally associated with this development, like cancer research or digital health. In order to grasp the complexity of the history of biomedicalization we have chosen as our empirical fields three domains traditionally perceived to be ‘border zones’ of biomedical practice, where these processes have had particular social effects and importance: (1) somatic interventions into sex and gender, (2) treatment of drug addiction and abuse and (3) psychiatric diagnosis in the courtroom. A fourth work package will chart the field of ‘social medicine’, which represented a continuous, if at times marginal perspective on viewing health as simultaneously biological and social. This is a transnational and interdisciplinary project, that combines historical investigation with cognate fields in the medical humanities and social sciences, along with close engagement in professional and lay interests in current dilemmas over the governance of health.

Publications from Cristin

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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell