Medical Humanities at Umeå University, Sweden – a Special Issue of Kulturella Perspektiv (Cultural Perspectives)

Britta Lundgren is professor of Ethnology at the Department of Culture and Media Studies Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 13.39.57at Umeå University in Sweden. She is currently working with the project “Epidemics, Vaccination, and the Power of Narratives”, financed by the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation. She is also the coordinator of The Medical Humanities Network, which assembles around 30 researchers from different departments in the Faculty of Arts. The network also collaborates with Umeå Studies in Science, Technology and Environment.

To present the medical humanities in Umeå, the Swedish journal Kulturella Perspektiv publishes seven articles together with an introduction in its forthcoming February issue. The articles are published in Swedish.

As an introduction, the guest editor Britta Lundgren presents a brief overview of the debates and critiques involved in the pedagogical uses and also a discussion about medical humanities’ critical potential for multi- and interdisciplinary research. Here follows a brief description of the other articles:

Virginia Langum and Asbjørg Westum:Plague, Medicine, and the Supernatural in English and Swedish Sources.

The article examines how the causes of Black Death were conceived and discussed in two distinct contexts: learned sources from late medieval England and oral Swedish legends that were collected and recorded many centuries after the outbreak. While focused on discussions of a particular disease – plague, otherwise known as the bacterium yersinia pestis – the geographical, chronological and material range enables a greater perspective upon the continuities and transitions of how theories of causality are framed. Keywords: Black Death, plague, etiology, medieval medicine and culture, Swedish folklore, popular medicine

Karin Ljuslinder: ‘Exaggerated Alarm or Fatal Flu. A Study of News Media Reporting on Influenza Pandemics.’

This study examines how historic pandemics have been represented in a printed daily newspaper (Dagens Nyheter), the only Swedish news medium that has existed during the entire studied time period, 1898–2009. The result shows that the representations shift from reports of an uncontrollable force of nature (1898) to representations of medical science and society’s control (1969) and, in 2009, back to reports about the swine flu as an apocalyptic catastrophe. Keywords. media, pandemics, media logic, discourse

Helena Haage and Lotta Vikström: ‘A Shorter Life than Others? Disabilities, Death Risks and Attitudes in Nineteenth-Century Society.’
The study follows disabled individuals over their lifespan to examine their mortality risks in 19th-century society, in comparison to non-disabled people. The aim is to detect whether people, due to their disability, had a higher probability of meeting a premature death. Sweden’s 19th-century parish registers are used to identify people the ministers defined as disabled, and employ theories on deviance and gender to grasp the statistical mortality findings. Disability significantly jeopardized the survival of individuals and particularly of men, probably because impairment limited their chances to match the breadwinner ideals associated with the male gender. Keywords: death, disability, gender, life course, nineteenth century, stigma, Sweden.

Jenny Eklöf: ‘Between Health and Sickness: The Mindfulness Panacea.’
Mindfulness meditation started its academic career in the 1970s within behavioural medicine and mind-body research. Now, you find it in psychotherapy, neuroscience and clinical psychology, but also increasingly in the social sciences such as education, organization studies, social work and economics. Mindfulness meditation is offered as a secular program for healing, self-understanding and growth, and has moved from the cultural margins (Buddhism) to the mainstream, both scientifically and culturally. The variety of problems that mindfulness addresses is made possible by the fact that it actually spans both the pathological and the normal or healthy. The article shows how in actual fact, it collapses that distinction regularly.  Keywords: mindfulness, Buddhism, clinical psychology, scientization, meditation.

Christer Nordlund: The Spice of Life? On Swedish snus as an Object of Study for Medical Humanities.’
While smoking has decreased in Sweden since the 1970s, the use of Swedish snus (a domestic moist tobacco product) has simultaneously increased, especially among men. About 20 percent of the men and 3 percent of the women in Sweden are currently using snus every day. The article argues that the use of snus needs to be explored and understood from a humanistic point of view, and proposes four interrelated aspects: the scientific uncertainty and controversies concerning the health risks; the divergent politics and regulations on the national level and EU level respectively; the business and marketing of the product; and finally cultural dimensions regarding tradition, norms, identity, experience and meaning in different social contexts. Keywords: Swedish snus; smokeless tobacco; medical risk; scientific uncertainty; marketing regulations; cultural meaning

Helena Pettersson, Katarzyna Wolanik Boström and Magnus Öhlander: ‘Analyzing Knowledge– What Internationalized and Mobile Medical Professionals Learn from Working Abroad.’

The article discusses international mobility among highly skilled professionals in the medical field. The aim is to classify and analyse different types of knowledge as physicians and medical researchers who have worked abroad and then returned to Sweden tell about their experiences. The article focuses the interdependency between declarative knowledge (facts, theoretical knowledge); skills and embodied knowhow; meta knowledge (about how the medical field works, i.e. publication strategies) and reflexive abilities (broaden one’s vision, learn about and be able to deal with cultural variations, extend professional habitus). Professional knowledge is defined as process is difficult to completely separate from everyday knowledge and everyday life, hence reflexive abilities play a vital role.
Keywords: knowledge, skills, medical field, internationalization, physicians, molecular biologists

Karine Aasgaard Jansen: Beyond “Illness” and “Disease: An Historical Introduction to Medical Anthropology.

The article introduces readers to the history of medical anthropology and discusses primarily medical anthropology’s theoretical relevance for the broader field of medical humanities. In focusing on the so-called interpretative and critical perspectives, the author suggests a revitalization of Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret Lock’s (1987) model of the three bodies as a reconciliatory approach between the two perspectives. Rather than approaching illness and disease from either the perspective of phenomenology or social constructivism, this model enables studies which acknowledge the interrelations between macro and micro processes in the shaping of local medical knowledge, meaning and experience. Keywords: history of medical anthropology, interpretative approach, critical perspective, medical humanities, social medicine.

For more information about this special issue or about the Medical Humanities at Umeå University please contact Britta Lundgren.

About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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