Biomedical Hegemony and Resistance
The video from last week involved a guinea pig. One may ask what a guinea pig had to do with healing, but that's not the point really. The
point is that they're playing a role of sorts. She's going to a healer for a cleansing. Eduardo's approach involves divination, using objects as
a projection of what they're picking up from conversing to the people/ When he says something's wrong with the kidneys, she s ays yeah
there's something wrong with mine, but she may not mean the organ kindey, but a different social understanding (i.e. lower back pain).
The diviners may use divination as a forum for people (especially the patient) to bring up feelings or thoughts they're stifling or
In Eduardo's ritual, we see the social meaning of healing. By the end, he says, he seems calmer and everyone agrees with him. It promotes
Eduardo says that shamanism is all in the mind. Syncretism has to do with weaving different traditions together (i.e. Eduardo uses
Christian belief, traditional beliefs, the civilization with the art).
Eduardo is a great performer and storyteller. Medical efficacy is intertwined with the ability ot tell stories, so charisma actually played a
big role in his ability to heal. It's an imporant aspect of social healing (virtuoso performer).
His artistic sensibility- he's a scupltor and someone very in tune with poeisis.
Byron Good- there's a lot of work that goes into making us bodies and patients. This knowledge is in a particular language, and medical
students have to get it in that language. This process of knowledge acqusition gives doctor extraordinatory power (cut, medicine). This is
the social power of medicine developed in an institutional environment. They're controlled to prevent harm, which is important. Good
Young discusses ideology and says that medical discourse constructs a clinic object (PTSD). Medical discourse about PTSD constructs the
object through their written descriptions. Behind this activity of writing and creating knowledge are some very human motivations (I.e.
competition between scholars, collaboration, jockeying for tenure).
Ideology does three things: convinces people to do things they would overwise not, subjects/ devalues rival ideas and serves important
Ideololy guides clinical practices which help to manifest PTSD and serves as the basis for the production of new discourses. Young is
underplaying distress, but pointing out that this disease is a recent construct. How did it come about?
Success is meaured by how well they speak, and Young is critical of how this affects cures.
A naïve model of science might think that knowledge advances without bias. All knowledge, including biomedcail knowledge, is based on
How does biomedicine produce stabilize knowledge?
How is it transmitted?
How does biomedicine impact the production and stabilization of othe rmedical systems?
3 questions about biomedicine:
Some of the ways knowledge is standardized is pretty simple: books, lectures, education, regulationatory institutions (medical school),
The question to ask is how the discourse become hegemonized (social and cultural dominance of particular discourses)
Why would people consent? People believe their interests are being served and so they consent
Gramsci: hegemony isthe “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life
by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige … which the dominant group enjoys be cause of
its position and function in the world of production.”
In medical anthropology: how certain ideas come to be seen as natural, normal and obvious, which makes other ideas or approaches appear
strange or ‘wrong’; how these naturalized ideas guide other assumptions and practices, and get reinforced in this way. Mary - Douglass
talked about the naturalization of certain prcesses through use of the body.
Biomedical hegemony then, refers to how discourses and practices of bioscience and biomedicine come to shape and dominate
discourse about health and illness; how they can set the terms for discussion and debate with alternative medical models, and in the
process, marginalize and re-shape these other systems.
Foucault on discourse: “systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically
construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak” (Iara Lessa 2006). What he means is that objectivity is an idea produced by
discourse, but we actually construct our knowledge. We know what we're looking for because that's the question we asked.
Stabilizing Medical Knowledge
There is always some form of resistance. Abu- Lughod works with women in western Egypt (patriarchical). The way they used poetry
created a space for alternate meanings for themselves (they altered the discourse about women in so many ways).
Colonization was never a simple matter of the colonizers writing their own culture overtop of a passive population; there are many
possible forms of resistance (i.e. mimickery). However, it's important to know that there are myriad ways that colonial knowledge was
positioned as being superior to indigenous beliefs. It's important to remember that medical knowledge was often a key site of these sorts of
interactions (i.e. hygiene campaigns).
Post-colonial theory traces how such expressions of power were key to the production of a widespread assumption that Western
knowledge practices are uniquely authoritative and universal in scope. It aims to study how these traces remain (i.e. institution,
infrastructure, elites that were close to powerful get into positions of power). Western knowledge is being sold as authoritative and
“Where there is power, there is resistance.”
Anthropological Approaches to Science
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
ANTC61 Page 1