Thresholds and Foreclosures:
Ethnographies of Innovation in Science and Medicine Today
CFP for the Society for the Social Studies of Science annual meeting
October 28-November 1, 2009, Washington DC
Session Organizers: Alex Choby (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Lara Braff (email@example.com)
This session is being organized on behalf of the Society for Medical Anthropology working group, Science, Medicine and Technology.
Technoscientific and medical innovation are often seen as a route to breakthroughs which, in turn, are central to how we imagine ourselves and the future. Media depictions like Time Magazine’s list of the “Top-10 Medical Breakthroughs of the Year” promise to curtail human suffering and improve lives. Such promises include the ability to ward off imagined threats (through the development of the avian flu vaccine), reduce morbidity and mortality (by uncovering a connection between circumcision and reduced HIV rates), detect disease earlier (using Gene Search’s BLN Assay to identify metastatic cancer at the molecular level), or create desired selves (using the weight-loss drug, Alli). Such “breakthroughs” appear to fit neatly into the taken-for-granted evolutionary narrative of scientific progress. However, STS offers us ways to problematize this exemplary narrative, to examine how it is created and to scrutinize its utopian or dystopian ends. For example, Latour, Rabinow, Callon and Law have shown that innovation is neither the result of individual genius, nor simply cognitive; rather it must be located within a network of human and non-human actants. Drawing on such works and on feminist science studies, we see innovation as always occurring within human/non-human networks and shaped by larger configurations of knowledge and power.
The proposed session seeks to contribute to ongoing conversations between STS and anthropology, bringing together insights into the nature of knowledge production with long-term ethnographic engagement. We are particularly interested in abstracts that use ethnography to address some of the following questions: What counts as breakthroughs and how they authorized as such? What are the various metrics of breakthroughs or their alleged counterparts, failures and foreclosures? How can failures and foreclosures also foster innovation? What are the economic, social, political, and material determinants of innovation processes? What is the role of innovation in processes of nation building and globalization? How is innovation facilitated by national and international policies, governance, nature, or market forces? What is the relationship between discovering, inventing, innovating, authorship and intellectual property? What are the ethical constraints and imperatives of innovation? Whose normative imperatives are embodied in imagined futures and social engineering projects intended to realize them?
We invite abstracts for papers that analyze and problematize “innovation” within science, technology and medicine as an ethnographic object. Please submit an abstract (400-500 words) to the organizers by Wednesday, February 25. The abstract should describe the paper’s main arguments, methods, and its contribution to the STS literature.
UCSF and UC Berkeley
Joint Program in Medical Anthropology
University of Chicago
Department of Anthropology Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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