Cultural Studies of Science and Medicine

Description

The innovative Culture, Illness and Healing book series originally was the brainchild of Arthur Kleinman, psychiatrist/sinologist/anthropologist at Harvard University and Medical School. Its foundational formulation was expressed in the title of the first volume of that heralded series: The Relevance of Social Science for Medicine. That volume was edited by Kleinman and his mentor at Harvard, the late Leon Eisenberg (a founder of pediatric psychiatry). The relevance discussed in that edited volume pertained not only to traditional medicines, but also to professional medicine in the West. The series, 16 volumes in all and beginning in 1981 with Kleinman and Eisenberg’s volume, went on to become foundational to the establishment of Medical Anthropology. The series had wide influence, with resonance in the fields of psychiatry, cross-cultural psychology, medical ethics and medical sociology. It focused on ‘critical social studies of sickness and medicine in diverse cultures.’ < 

The volumes of the series, Culture, Illness and Healing (abbreviated CIH), revealed the richness and breadth of the field of Medical Anthropology at that time, as well as that of other medical social sciences. Aside from a call to Medical Anthropologists to look to the relevance of their fields for understanding and interpreting the theory and practice of medicines everywhere, the series also fostered some specificities, e.g., the originating studies of the Anthropology of Biomedicine and Pharmaceutical Anthropology. CIH also published important early studies on social science perspectives on and in bioethics and the clinical applications of Medical Anthropology.

 

tyle="color:fuchsia">The CIH series was groundbreaking in its time, but time has a habit of marching on.  Medical Anthropology now is a very different enterprise, in most respects, than it was in its first major fluorescence during the period of CIH’s publication. For over a decade, medical anthropology has been moving into very different intellectual spaces and engaging new colleagues in disparate disciplines such as the Histories and Philosophies of Medicine and Science, Science and Technology Studies/Cultural Studies of Science, Gender Studies, Medical Humanities, and Bioethics. As well, a range of new theories have developed that give the field a much broader, diachronic focus that blurs standard, older disciplinary boundaries. This sort of Medical Anthropology has been called Millennial Medical Anthropology. CSSM is successor to CIH but it will inhabit the new spaces of blurred disciplinary genres that are proving to be extremely productive of new understandings as well as reforms in professional medical theory and practice.

 

While medical anthropologists were early content to ‘contribute’ to biomedical theory and practice and to international health activities, there is now more a sense of autonomy. That is, anthropology is not best seen as a helper enterprise. Whereas anthropologists once wanted to learn the techniques of international, now global, health, and some still do, there is now much more a sense that close examination of knowledge and practice in biomedicine, epidemiology, bioethics and other fields such as public and global health, is more appropriate for a science of humanity concerned with cultural processes, realities and individualities.

 

In thinking of a new CSSM, then, it must take Medical Anthropology further, as did the CIH, and invoke a Millennial Medical Anthropology, a medical anthropology that has grown beyond traditional medical anthropology of the last century. CSSM and is not only a broader forum for investigation; it also will represent a different sort of science than that of the 20th century, one which blends history, social science, philosophy and history of science, ethics, and medical humanities. This synthetic Medical Anthropology already inspires the Journal, Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. This new synthesis of social science and humanities will be the hallmark of CSSM series.