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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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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»Haptic Creativity

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Co-authored with Natasha Myers. 2011 “Haptic Creativity and the Mid-Embodiments of Experimental Life,” in Companion to the Anthropology of Bodies/Embodiment.  In this chapter, we present our collaboration working as anthropologists of experimental forms of life. We examine fieldsites where practitioners develop and use computerized visualization technologies. In the process we aim to collaborate with scientists and Continue reading…

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»How I Read

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Notes on reading modes sent to a grad class: I wanted to respond to the questions raised during our class regarding what kind of a reading I have been doing over these weeks.  I see it as close (as opposed to general), constructive (as opposed to deconstructive), positive (as opposed to negative), generous (as opposed Continue reading…

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»Drugs for Life

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How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health (2012 Duke University Press) Kindle version is now out! Hear my radio interview about Drugs for Life on BBC 4 Thinking Allowed Every year the average number of prescriptions purchased by Americans increases, as do healthcare expenditures, which are projected to reach one-fifth of the U.S. gross domestic product Continue reading…

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