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Lecture 9

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Infertility, Biomedicine, Epigenetics

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Dr. Rebecca Plett

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We are all generally moved by medicine's "future possibilities and innovative technologies"
What does this so? What are the narrative possibilities of this movement? What are the promises
of healing that they are drawing on?
Medical technologies are caught up in affective domains of illness and healing:
o Caring is conveyed through technical acts
o Fantasies of biomedicine's power to explain and treat disease often leads to the aggressive
use of technology
Biomedical technologies are designed to facilitate human intervention into the workings of the
body in health and illness
E.g., machines and devices (CT scans), tests (blood tests, scopes), pharmaceuticals
Biomedical technologies connect a variety of institutions - hospitals, laboratories, biotech
companies and the state
o When this technology is applied in practice, it coalesces as biological, clinical, and
epidemiological fact
o The science of biomedicine is constructed by technology; health-related matters are made
into "technical problems" to be solved by technology
The "scientific revolution" of the 15th century (think da Vinci, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton…): the
world is made known through systemic investigation and transformed (and bettered) through the
application of technology
o A central piece of enlightenment thinking was that the natural world could be mastered
through scientific investigation and the application of "machine power"
The importance of applying technologies to better the populace was indispensable to the
industrial revolution
o One principle intension of the revolution was to improve the "wellbeing of the masses" -
mostly to make them more able to endure excessively hard work
Several claims of truth explicated during the Enlightenment have resonance today:
o "development" - to progress on and improve the world's economy and health, where
further technological mastery of nature is essential
o The assumption that biology is governed by universal laws like physics is
o Medical science assumes the human body is "standardizable" - the material body is
o Humanistic endeavours are underpinned by the global spread of knowledge, technologies,
and ways of life of the West
Part of the process of making biomedical technologies legit is to disseminate rhetoric about their
value and create a narrative of benefit: that they contribute to scientific progress and fulfill human
o BUT! They also produce anxieties
To constrain and dispel anxiety, legal constraints and professional guidelines are create to govern
conduct in labs, clinics and consultation rooms
Emerging biomedical technologies challenges boundaries between nature and culture, self or
other, life or death
What is normal/abnormal? Moral/just? What should be the limits of human intervention into the
"natural world"?
"hybrid" entities are created, and cells, tissues, and organs are transformed into materials that
allow research or substitute or replace faulty or inadequate body parts
o E.g., organ transplants
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