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Lecture 4

SOSA 2503 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Biomedicine, Scientism, Diminishing Returns

Soc & Social Anthropology
Course Code
SOSA 2503
Dr.Emma Whelan

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SOSA2501 09/18/2014
The Biomedical Model
Assumptions of the Biomedical Model
the machine metaphor of the body
the idea that the body is like a machine with pieces that work together and pieces of it can be
repaired. People doing the repair work = doctors.
Ex. Breaking a bone – something put on it so it can function as normal again
Another example would be organ transplants and ultrasounds of the inside of women- different
people taking turns in learning hospital and one doctor says ‘think of it like a stick shift’
the technological imperative
Imperative is important… Technology is very important in Western society. The idea of the
imperative is that you need high tech equipment for medicine now. Higher tech the better for
treating illness.
the patient as passive vessel
The patients role is passive. We are worked upon. Idea from Foucault – clinical gaze: how
doctors look at patients in a mechanical way instead of looking at how the patient is feeling.
The physician has to ‘get past’ the patient to figure out the problem.
mind-body dualism
The idea that the mind and the body are separable and can be treated separately. Either physical,
in the body, or mental, in the mind. There is a notion that the difficult stuff is the physical stuff.
They don’t cross over. A ‘real’ disease is not mental.
biological reductionism
the idea that our explanations of disease within the biomedical model are reduced to biology.
Diseases or illnesses without biological explanation are taken less seriously. More physical, more
the doctrine of specific etiology
The idea that there is a germ that is causing each disease. This doesn’t work for all diseases, but
is the first impetus when looking for a newly developing diseasing in a person. There is a hunt
for the AIDS virus, instead of looking at different factors involved.
cross-case comparability

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Diseases is constant across cases. Doesn’t matter which individual it appears in, it is the same
disease. Cases are comparable. If people are in different stages of a disease, they still have
exactly the same disease. ‘One size fits all’ type of treatment.
curative orientation
The idea that within western biomedicine our focus traditionally has been on acute diseases, not
chronic diseases. You want to get rid of the disease, not manage it. Curing a disease requires
understanding its cause.
health as 'normality‘: disease is a categorical departure from what Is ‘normal’. There are two
senses which health is equated with normal…
quantitatively normal: what is commonly seen in most cases- the average. The statistical
measure. If you’re in the normal range, you’re ok.
qualitatively normal: functional, behaving as it should.
Ex. People with disabilities often diagnosed as having a disease because they’re bodies are
different from other peoples, and part of it may not function as other peoples’ do.
Atomism: parts of the body have meaning and function independently of the whole. Diseases
have an identity separable from the host. A disease kind of enters, takes over, then leaves. The
body is divided into pieces and systems.
objectivity vs. subjectivity : related to the distinction in medicine between signs and symptoms.
'signs' vs. 'symptoms'
Signs are objectively discernable things that can be measured. Preferred by physicians. Can track
changes in physical states.
Symptoms are pain, nausea.. subjectible experiential changes in the bodily state.
We can see here again a biological reductionism.
seeing is believing
vision being the dominant sense in biomedicine, and also in natural sciences. Also seen as the
most reliable. You can distance yourself from something when looking at it- bans intimate
connection. Gradual movement away from touch in biomedicine. More removed so it seems
more reliable.
Ex. imaging technologies.
nature vs. culture
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