When Explanations Rest

Chronic Fatigue CFS 4

“Good-Enough” Brain Science and the New Socio-Medical Disorders. Published in in Living and Working with the New Biomedical Technologies: Intersections of Inquiry, eds. Margaret Lock, Allan Young and Alberto Cambrosio.

Explanations come to an end somewhere. – Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein’s opening to Philosophical Investigations points to a funda­ mental crisis in scientific and medical research: When is there enough explanation of a phenomenon to consider it settled and definable? If a cluster of symptoms – say dizziness, itching, extreme fatigue and weak­ ness – afflicts a group of persons working together, what kind of expla­ nation is good enough? Is finding a food they all ate, or common expo­ sure to a rare gas, or a common brain pattern enough to say, “Okay, that is it”? Or is locating a certain gene they all share, or a drug that relieves some of the symptoms enough? What if only four out of five share the characteristic? Or yet again, do we need the entire pathophysi­ology of each symptom?

The fact that different people answer these questions differently points to the social location of these questions. The very meaning of “definable illness” and especially the entailments of that definition ­ whether a person with symptoms receives help or blame or dismissal ­ depend upon who is doing the assessing, where they are doing it from, and within what regime of social good and compassion they are operating. We may not like the implication that a person is sick in one place but not in another, but socially this may be a fact.

In this paper I begin an ethnographic characterization of what is shared across a set of contested fields I call the new socio-medical dis­ orders. Under this name, I include Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Gulf W ar Syndrome (GWS), Mul­ tiple Chemical Sensitivity or Environmental Illness (MCS) and, to a lesser extent, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia and depression. Each of these has been and continues to be the object of anthropological, sociological and psychological studies. Each is very different from the others in terms of history, demographics and the social location of controversies.

 

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2000

Dumit 2000 ExplanationsRest

“When Explanations Rest: ‘Good-enough’ Brain Science and the New Sociomedical Disorders,”  in Living and Working with the New Biomedical Technologies: Intersections of Inquiry, eds. Margaret Lock, Allan Young and Alberto Cambrosio.  Cambridge University Press.

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»Fascia Movement Research Lab (Dumit & O’Connor)

myofascialbag

STS.175 Laboratory Studies Lab (Special Fall 2015 Course, limited to 19 students) Fascia Movement Research Lab (led by Prof. Joseph Dumit & Kevin O’Connor) Science & Technology Studies (STS) is the study of how science, technology, and medicine change. Laboratory studies involves participant observation in research labs to understand how facts are negotiated, crafted, and Continue reading…

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»Inter-pill-ation and the instrumentalization of compliance

non-compliance-daniels

Compliance’s usefulness as a measure of prescribed treatment adherence by a patient has been its ability to index treatment success, and therefore help in ensuring and governing health. What these anthropologists have discovered, however, is that because of its function as an index, compliance has been itself instrumentalized and made to serve goals sometimes quite far from health.

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»Cyborg Babies

CyborgBabies

From Techno-sex to Techno-tots Edited by Robbie Davis-Floyd and Joseph Dumit (Routledge, Aug 1998) From fetuses scanned ultrasonically to computer hackers in daycare, contemporary children are increasingly rendered cyborg by their immersion in technoculture. As we are faced with reproductive choices connected directly with technologies, we often have trouble gaining perspective on our own cultural Continue reading…

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