Repositioning health, illness and the body: the challenge of new theoretical approaches to medical anthropology (CfP, ASA14 Conference, Edinburgh, 19-22 June 2014)

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth
ASA14 Decennial: Anthropology and Enlightenment
19-22 June 2014
The Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

Repositioning health, illness and the body: the challenge of new theoretical approaches to medical anthropology

Convenors: Simon Cohn and Rebecca Lynch (University of Cambridge)

This panel addresses to what extent a number of Enlightenment distinctions have inescapably shaped medical anthropology, and whether they have hindered, as well as enabled, its progress. It asks whether approaches from STS and the ‘ontological turn’ are useful to overcome the entrenched dichotomies.

This panel will ask if such classic distinctions as those between nature/culture, self/other, mind/body are merely entrenched cultural repertoires of Western post-Enlightenment, and to what extent have they inescapably shaped the development of medical anthropology and related research. It will explore whether approaches from STS and the ‘ontological turn’ might be particularly useful to interrogate this issue, by helping us circumvent such things as the illness/disease distinction as well as placing the materiality of the body at the centre of analysis. A radical reconfiguration not only rejects drawing on assumed categories but places the body and matters of health and illness as inherently contingent on specific contexts. However, for many anthropologists, such approaches feel limited by their apparent lack of engagement with subjective experiences such as emotions, beliefs, distress and desires. Some of the questions this panel may address are therefore:

  • How might material-semiotic and ANT approaches challenge our considerations of the body and disease, and what do examples of this approach imply for the study of health and illness more broadly?
  • Can these approaches reinvigorate medical anthropology without letting go of things we regard as integral to the discipline?
  • How do these also help us to think through work on health and illness that aims to engage with non-anthropologists? (for example, when our work is ‘applied’?)
  • How can a strong commitment to multiple realities allow for such ideas as rationality, empathy and intimacy which suggest commonalities?

Paper proposals should consist of:

  • a paper title
  • authors/co-authors
  • a short abstract of fewer than 300 characters
  • a long abstract of fewer than 250 words.

All paper proposals must be submitted via the conference website although you are welcome to email us directly for informal queries (Simon, Rebecca). Proposal abstracts should be submitted here. More information on the conference more broadly is available here.

About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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