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Feeling Biomedicalization: Affect in "The DNA Age"

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Abstract:

Feminist science studies scholars have posited “biomedicalization” as a theoretical framework through which to document, understand and critique transformations in health, medicine, illness and identity since the late 1980s (Clarke et al., 2003). Situated within global, stratified networks of capital, technology and bodies, biomedicalization in the U.S. is characterized by: 1) reconstituted biomedical industries, such as insurance and pharmaceuticals, 2) a focus on risk and surveillance, 3) hyper-advanced technologies for biomedical interventions, 4) the transformation of how biomedical knowledge is produced, disseminated and consumed, and 5) the reimagining and literal reimaging of bodies to produce new individual and collective technoscientific identities. These phenomena were documented by journalist Amy Harmon in her 2007-2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, The DNA Age, which chronicled “the impact of genetic technology on American life.” In her 16-part New York Times series, Harmon detailed how knowledge about genes had, for example, created a new category of cancer patient (the “previvor”) and reinvigorated previously dismissed theories of biological race/ism. My study positions Harmon’s widely consumed and celebrated series as an ethnographic archive through which to explore the role(s) of affect – that is, emotions – in the theory of biomedicalization.

While research on biomedicalization has explored domains as diverse as the heteronormative marketing of Viagra (Mamo & Fishman, 2001) to racialized, gendered and classed forms of risk management in cardiovascular disease (Shim, 2005), social scientists and humanists have also recently foregrounded affect in the study of bodies, medicine and everyday life (e.g., Orr, 2006; Sedgwick, 2003; Ahmed, 2004b). In a special issue of Body & Society, Blackman and Venn (2010) meditated on how “affect,” in all its varied ontologies, challenges us to reimagine bodies as practices, rather than fixed entities. Feminist theorist Sara Ahmed (2004a) elaborates how, “…emotions are not simply ‘within’ or ‘without,’ but [emotions] create the very effect of the surfaces or boundaries of bodies and worlds” (p. 117). Biomedicalization, on the other hand, is understood primarily (though not exclusively) as a structural analysis of the macro-social processes that constitute relations between health, medicine and illness. Nonetheless, biomedical phenomena have highly affective consequences for lived experiences, such as the self-identified previvor who negotiates the emotional fallout of a ‘preventative’ mastectomy (Harmon, 2007) and the billionaire whose capital and desires enable him to become the second human to purchase his own genome sequence (Harmon, 2008). Using a poststructural form of grounded theory called “situational analysis” (Clarke, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 2008), I survey Harmon’s work and explicate the affective meanings that emerge in her representation of biomedicalization. My study aims to make explicit the already implicit links between biomedicalization theory and affect.

In this talk, I argue for the primacy of affect in biomedicalization, which has reconstituted sociocultural understandings of bodies and medicine. These understandings are not exclusively cognitive, and more likely exist in the liminal space between conscious cognition and non-consciousness emotions. Ahmed (2004b) has asserted that affect is literally how we know ourselves and others, and I follow her in arguing that through affectivity – and not only technoscientific knowledge-practices – that we actually experience biomedicalization. By using Harmon’s reporting as the empirical foundation for my analysis, I will both detail an affective terrain of biomedicalization and offer some preliminary suggestions for how to incorporate affect into sociocultural analyses of biomedicalization.

References

Ahmed, S. (2004a). Affective economies. Social Text, 79, 117-39.

Ahmed, S. (2004b). The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge.

Blackman, L., & Venn, C. (2010). Affect. Body & Society, 16, 7-28.

Clarke, A. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Clarke, A., Mamo, L., Fishman, J.R., Shim, J. K., & Fosket, J. R. (2003). Biomedicalization: Technoscientific transformations of health, illness, and U.S. biomedicine. American Sociological Review, 68, 161-94.

Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Harmon, A. (2007, Sept. 16). Cancer free at 33, but weighing a mastectomy. The New York Times, F1.

Harmon, A. (2008, March 4). Gene map becomes a luxury item. The New York Times, F1.

Mamo, L., and Fishman, J. R. (2001). Potency in all the right places: Viagra as a technology of the gendered body. Body & Society, 7, 13-35.

Orr, J. (2006). Panic diaries: A genealogy of panic disorder. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sedgwick, E. K. (2003). Touching feeling: Affect, pedagogy, performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Shim, J. K. (2005). Constructing ‘race’ across the science-lay divide: Racial formation in the epidemiology and experience of cardiovascular disease. Social Studies of Science, 35, 405-36.
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Grzanka, Patrick. "Feeling Biomedicalization: Affect in "The DNA Age"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509467_index.html>

APA Citation:

Grzanka, P. R. "Feeling Biomedicalization: Affect in "The DNA Age"" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509467_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Feminist science studies scholars have posited “biomedicalization” as a theoretical framework through which to document, understand and critique transformations in health, medicine, illness and identity since the late 1980s (Clarke et al., 2003). Situated within global, stratified networks of capital, technology and bodies, biomedicalization in the U.S. is characterized by: 1) reconstituted biomedical industries, such as insurance and pharmaceuticals, 2) a focus on risk and surveillance, 3) hyper-advanced technologies for biomedical interventions, 4) the transformation of how biomedical knowledge is produced, disseminated and consumed, and 5) the reimagining and literal reimaging of bodies to produce new individual and collective technoscientific identities. These phenomena were documented by journalist Amy Harmon in her 2007-2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, The DNA Age, which chronicled “the impact of genetic technology on American life.” In her 16-part New York Times series, Harmon detailed how knowledge about genes had, for example, created a new category of cancer patient (the “previvor”) and reinvigorated previously dismissed theories of biological race/ism. My study positions Harmon’s widely consumed and celebrated series as an ethnographic archive through which to explore the role(s) of affect – that is, emotions – in the theory of biomedicalization.

While research on biomedicalization has explored domains as diverse as the heteronormative marketing of Viagra (Mamo & Fishman, 2001) to racialized, gendered and classed forms of risk management in cardiovascular disease (Shim, 2005), social scientists and humanists have also recently foregrounded affect in the study of bodies, medicine and everyday life (e.g., Orr, 2006; Sedgwick, 2003; Ahmed, 2004b). In a special issue of Body & Society, Blackman and Venn (2010) meditated on how “affect,” in all its varied ontologies, challenges us to reimagine bodies as practices, rather than fixed entities. Feminist theorist Sara Ahmed (2004a) elaborates how, “…emotions are not simply ‘within’ or ‘without,’ but [emotions] create the very effect of the surfaces or boundaries of bodies and worlds” (p. 117). Biomedicalization, on the other hand, is understood primarily (though not exclusively) as a structural analysis of the macro-social processes that constitute relations between health, medicine and illness. Nonetheless, biomedical phenomena have highly affective consequences for lived experiences, such as the self-identified previvor who negotiates the emotional fallout of a ‘preventative’ mastectomy (Harmon, 2007) and the billionaire whose capital and desires enable him to become the second human to purchase his own genome sequence (Harmon, 2008). Using a poststructural form of grounded theory called “situational analysis” (Clarke, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 2008), I survey Harmon’s work and explicate the affective meanings that emerge in her representation of biomedicalization. My study aims to make explicit the already implicit links between biomedicalization theory and affect.

In this talk, I argue for the primacy of affect in biomedicalization, which has reconstituted sociocultural understandings of bodies and medicine. These understandings are not exclusively cognitive, and more likely exist in the liminal space between conscious cognition and non-consciousness emotions. Ahmed (2004b) has asserted that affect is literally how we know ourselves and others, and I follow her in arguing that through affectivity – and not only technoscientific knowledge-practices – that we actually experience biomedicalization. By using Harmon’s reporting as the empirical foundation for my analysis, I will both detail an affective terrain of biomedicalization and offer some preliminary suggestions for how to incorporate affect into sociocultural analyses of biomedicalization.

References

Ahmed, S. (2004a). Affective economies. Social Text, 79, 117-39.

Ahmed, S. (2004b). The cultural politics of emotion. New York: Routledge.

Blackman, L., & Venn, C. (2010). Affect. Body & Society, 16, 7-28.

Clarke, A. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Clarke, A., Mamo, L., Fishman, J.R., Shim, J. K., & Fosket, J. R. (2003). Biomedicalization: Technoscientific transformations of health, illness, and U.S. biomedicine. American Sociological Review, 68, 161-94.

Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Harmon, A. (2007, Sept. 16). Cancer free at 33, but weighing a mastectomy. The New York Times, F1.

Harmon, A. (2008, March 4). Gene map becomes a luxury item. The New York Times, F1.

Mamo, L., and Fishman, J. R. (2001). Potency in all the right places: Viagra as a technology of the gendered body. Body & Society, 7, 13-35.

Orr, J. (2006). Panic diaries: A genealogy of panic disorder. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sedgwick, E. K. (2003). Touching feeling: Affect, pedagogy, performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Shim, J. K. (2005). Constructing ‘race’ across the science-lay divide: Racial formation in the epidemiology and experience of cardiovascular disease. Social Studies of Science, 35, 405-36.


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