Tag: humanism

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals May 2016 Part II by Melanie Boeckmann

Part I can be found here. 

Social Science & Medicine 

Where the lay and the technical meet: Using an anthropology of interfaces to explain persistent reproductive health disparities in West Africa

Yannick Jaffré, Siri Suh

Despite impressive global investment in reproductive health programs in West Africa, maternal mortality remains unacceptably high and obstetric care is often inadequate. Fertility is among the highest in the world, while contraceptive prevalence remains among the lowest. This paper explores the social and technical dimensions of this situation. We argue that effective reproductive health programs require analyzing the interfaces between technical programs and the social logics and behaviors of health professionals and client populations. Significant gaps between health programs’ goals and the behaviors of patients and health care professionals have been observed. While public health projects aim to manage reproduction, sexuality, fertility, and professional practices are regulated socially. Such projects may target technical practices, but access to care is greatly influenced by social norms and ethics. This paper shows how an empirical anthropology that investigates the social and technical interfaces of reproduction can contribute to improved global health.

 Medical errors: Disclosure styles, interpersonal forgiveness, and outcomes

Annegret F. Hannawa, Yuki Shigemoto, Todd D. Little

Rationale

This study investigates the intrapersonal and interpersonal factors and processes that are associated with patient forgiveness of a provider in the aftermath of a harmful medical error.

Objective

This study aims to examine what antecedents are most predictive of patient forgiveness and non-forgiveness, and the extent to which social-cognitive factors (i.e., fault attributions, empathy, rumination) influence the forgiveness process.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Michael Tomasello, A Natural History of Human Morality, Harvard University Press, 2016

The dust jacket to A Natural History of Human Morality advertises “the most detailed account to date of the evolution of human moral psychology.” Reading this description, you might expect a hefty, multi-volume work filled with mitochondrial maps, genotype to fitness landscapes, and appendix after appendix of experimental results. Thankfully, you will find none of these things within this slim, breezy, 163-page monograph. What you will find could be better described as an “introduction” or an “outline” to an ongoing research program, which may very well become the “the most detailed account…of the evolution of human moral psychology” that we can hope for. But the greatest virtue of A Natural History of Human Morality, to my mind, is its merciful lack of detail. Tucked between its narrow covers is a simple yet engaging story about the emergence of a new kind of cooperation among upright apes, which we call “morality.”

With its welcomed brevity and immanent readability, this book can be enjoyed by just about anyone. However, it will probably appeal most to readers who have neither the time nor the background to keep up with the many articles that Michael Tomasello publishes every year, but who want to find out what all the hubbub is about. If you’ve never read a book on the evolution of morality before, there’s no better place to begin. For those of you who have kept up with Tomasello’s work over the years, you’ll find little that you don’t already know, but you will walk away with a clearer understanding of what he’s up to and where his project is headed.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

When Risk, Doubt, and Difference Converge: A Review Essay by Elizabeth Lewis

On Immunity: An Inoculation
By Eula Biss
Graywolf Press, 2014, 205 pp.

The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era
By Lennard J. Davis
University of Michigan Press, 2013, 155 pp.

Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks
By Jordynn Jack
University of Illinois Press, 2014, 306 pp.

 

Disability themes have become an increasingly central figure in the media, popular culture, and everyday life. Rates of disability diagnosis have risen sharply among children in the U.S. in the past decade. Disability has exploded in the popular press in such acclaimed recent books as Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, Akhil Sharma’s Family Life, and Lisa Genova’s Still Alice. Similarly, scholarship on disability has gained new momentum. Somatosphere’s Inhabitable Worlds series, edited by Michele Friedner and Emily Cohen, featured cutting-edge writings on the study of disability within the social sciences, and the program for the 2015 American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting included over 50 papers, panels, and posters on disability themes. Without question, disability has emerged from the margins of scholarship and public interest.

Three recent books – Eula Biss’ On Immunity: An Inoculation, Lennard Davis’ The End of Normal: Identity in a Biocultural Era, and Jordynn Jack’s Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks – make important insights regarding the contours and textures of disability in the contemporary U.S. Biss, an essayist and social critic, offers a fascinating analysis of the persistent anxiety surrounding childhood vaccinations, particularly among a vocal minority of parents who oppose vaccines entirely.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Spacecraft(ing) by Vincent Duclos

“Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun?” cries Nietzsche’s madman in a famous parable of The Gay Science. “Are we not continually falling? Aren’t we straying as though through an infinite nothing [5, 7]? Isn’t empty space breathing at us [5, 8]? Hasn’t it got colder?”

(Nietzsche 2001: 119-120) [10]

“You’re more powerful than you think,” reads the slogan at the end of the iPhone 5s “strength” TV advertisement. Plugging the iPhone’s capabilities as a fitness companion, the ad follows a group of iPhone owners as they work out and track their performance. Throughout the ad, bodies wake up, run, swim, lift weights, and climb. Through a series of exhausting encounters with the “Great Outdoors,” – adverse weather conditions, uphill climbs, untrodden paths, physical gravity – bodies get in shape [8]. The magic of the ad lies in its folding in of the “Great Outdoors” to the point of complete dissolution: via their iPhones, users successfully metabolize their encounters [3, 4]. At once a personal trainer, a dietician, and a life coach, the iPhone turns physical effort into something that can be accounted, calculated, rendered legible [2]. iPhones mediate [8]. The more efficient the mediation, the more “chicken fat” is burnt, as the song playing throughout the ad reminds us [8]. The more successfully bodies internalize their encounters with the “Great Outdoors,” the more they appear to be severed, autonomous [3, 11].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Magic Words: A Numbered List by Vincent Duclos

  1. Boundary
  2. Biǎo 表
  3. Interiorization (Inclusion)
  4. The Fold
  5. Emptiness
  6. Pathway
  7. Tōng 通
  8. Media/Medium
  9. Resonance
  10. Excess
  11. Immunity/Community


1. Boundary

Boundary is such a common-sense concept that it hardly needs to be glossed. Indeed, the definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary flirts with tautology in its obviousness: “that which serves to indicate the bounds or limits of anything….” Interestingly, however, “boundary” in this definition takes an active verb, it “serves” to do something social, conceptual, and even political. In recent scholarship boundaries between knowledge domains are seen as disputed, just as the political boundaries between nation-states often are. It has become common in science studies to examine the very practice of “serving to indicate the bounds or limits of anything.” Historians and sociologists of science have analyzed border wars or boundary disputes in which scientists and commentators ask, about fields like psychology or cold fusion: is it really science, or is it superstition, error, ideology? Some observers of biomedicine have asked whether this field is, properly speaking, a science or, like “non-Western” healing modalities, a skilled art, thus challenging the distinctness of the two worlds of science and art.

Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer have given us the useful notion of a boundary object, “which both inhabit[s] several intersecting social worlds and [satisfies] the informational requirements of each of them.” Boundary objects “have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough … to make them recognizable, a means of translation.” These uses of the concept of boundary do not presume that boundaries (“whether material or immaterial,” the OED says) exist in the world undisputed. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Ethnographic case, legal case: From the spirit of the law to the law of the spirit by André Menard

In 1956, Claude Lévi-Strauss addressed a letter to the 1st International Congress of Black Writers and Artists held in Paris. In the letter, he stated that “after the aristocratic humanism of the Renaissance and the bourgeois humanism of the 19th century” the Congress announced the arrival of “a democratic humanism” in which “every human society must be represented, not just a few.”[1]

A societies’ access to the rank of civilization is, however, neither evident nor immediate, but requires the presence of representatives. Lévi-Strauss explained this situation in the following manner: “these civilizations of which you are the spokespeople have hardly had any written documents and some only devoted themselves to the monument’s transitory forms. For lack of these so-called noble productions, in order to comprehend them, one must focus oneself, with the same degree of passion and respect, on the ‘popular’ manifestations of culture: those shared by all members of society.”[2]

In this statement from Lévi-Strauss, we can see three things: an expression of the politics of deracialization policies promoted by organizations such as the United Nations and Unesco since the end of World War II; the promotion of the concept of culture over race as the new tool for the management of the human differences; and the creation of a new subject—indigenous peoples as an internationally recognized political and legal category.

What is perhaps most meaningful in Levi Strauss’ statement, however, is that this new global category takes the shape of a special kind of subject: the anthropological informant—that anonymous person or individual whose name always functions at a secondary level after the authorship of the ethnographer, whose role is to instantiate a collective category, which was understood in the past as race, and is today known as culture.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Transdisciplinary Problematics: A Special Issue of Theory, Culture and Society by Michelle Pentecost

The latest issue of Theory, Culture and Society offers a stellar set of offerings on the problematics of transdisciplinarity, through the lenses of philosophy, STS, feminist theory, and gender studies. Enjoy!

Problematizing Disciplinarity, Transdisciplinary Problematics

Peter Osborne

This article situates current debates about transdisciplinarity within the deeper history of academic disciplinarity, in its difference from the notions of inter- and multi-disciplinarity. It offers a brief typology and history of established conceptions of transdisciplinarity within science and technology studies. It then goes on to raise the question of the conceptual structure of transdisciplinary generality in the humanities, with respect to the incorporation of the 19th- and 20th-century German and French philosophical traditions into the anglophone humanities, under the name of ‘theory’. It identifies two distinct – dialectical and anti-dialectical, or dialectical and transversal – transdisciplinary trajectories. It locates the various contributions to the special issue of which it is the introduction within this conceptual field, drawing attention to the distinct contribution of the French debates about structuralism and its aftermath – those by Serres, Foucault, Derrida, Guattari and Latour, in particular. It concludes with an appendix on Foucault’s place within current debates about disciplinarity and academic disciplines.

 

Introduction to Serres on Transdisciplinarity

Lucie Mercer

Excerpted from an article on Leibniz first published in 1974 in Hermès III, la Traduction, Michel Serres’s ‘Transdisciplinarity as Relative Exteriority’ offers a synoptic view of Serres’s vision of the relationship between philosophy and the sciences. Serres charts four historical strategies by which philosophy has secured its theoretical control over the sciences, four versions of philosophical exteriority towards the scientific field.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Conference review: MAGic 2015 Anthropology and Global Health: Interrogating Theory, Policy and Practice by Josien de Klerk

“Global Health is like a containership. The multiple actors —international and local NGOs, humanitarian organisations, scientists, activists, politicians — operate the tugboats, attempting to nudge, tug and pull the ship into its dock, where it will be offloaded and transported, i.e. implemented, by those who were able to demonstrate the greatest technical skill and advantage. […]As anthropologists, we must continue to engage in the Sisyphean task of trying to steer the Global Health container ship, but we should also not forget that we are on the ship, nor that it is often easier to shape both the trade routes and shipping manifesto before the ship gets under way.” –Eileen Moyer

This metaphor, brought forward by Eileen Moyer in a panel on containment organized by Alex Nading and Rebecca Marsland, is just one of the many creative proposals about the relationship between global health and medical anthropology that circulated at MAGic2015. The conference, jointly organized by the EASA Medical Anthropology Network and the RAI Medical Anthropology Committee, was held at Sussex University September 9-11. The MAGic conference aimed to interrogate the paradigms and practices of Global Health.

From Wednesday to Friday, opening keynote lectures were followed by six parallel panel sessions for a total of 52 panels and lunchtime events, including the Sussex Glocal Health Hive, the annual meeting of the EASA Medical Anthropology Network and a Wellcome trust presentation on funding opportunities. The conference drew 350 participants, of whom almost a third were young scholars working in Global Health. The third meeting of its kind — in 2011 the EASA medical anthropology network held a conference on the theme of medical pluralism in Rome and in 2013 EASA and SMA joined to discuss “Engagements and Encounters” in Tarragona — the conference again offered a rich platform for formal and informal debate, the start of new collaborations and initiatives, and the space for interdisciplinary engagements.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Thinking About the Body Through Visual Art

Readers of the Literature, Art & Medicine Blog may remember me as the first Artist in Residence at NYUSOM, or as the creator and teacher of Art & Anatomy in the Master Scholars Program in Humanistic Medicine [previously] [interview]. You may have seen my own or my students’ work on exhibit in the MSB (Medical Science Building) Gallery at NYU Langone Medical Center, or read Founding Editor Felice Aull’s insightful annotation of my work in the Database. Coming to the world of medicine as an artist, patient, and inhabiter of an unusual anatomy, I’ve been honored to have a voice in the humanistic medicine dialogue. Today I’m writing to introduce myself in a new role that I’m excited to take on, as the new Art Editor of the revamped, redesigned LitMed Database and Blog.

My first task as art editor was to find an image to represent Visual Art on the website’s new landing page. It was a challenge, but a fascinating one … and in the end I was happy to find the solution not in one perfect image but in bringing together this set of four. They represent an intriguing spectrum of cultures, time periods, media, and ways of thinking about the body, each gaining a deeper resonance by being juxtaposed with the others.

left to right: Laura Ferguson, Pavel Tchelitchew, Sopheap Pich, Leonardo da Vinci
more information and links to each image can be found at [insert link to Database page]

In each of these artworks, an image of the head or the brain is imbued with a sense of consciousness, an awareness of its own embodiment.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Importance of the Collective Afterlife for Human Values: The Collective Afterlife and the “Afterlife Conjecture”

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

In his new book, Death and the Afterlife (comprised of his two Tanner Lectures on Human Values), philosopher Samuel Scheffler argues that the assumption of a “collective afterlife” (i.e., the assumption that humanity lives on here on earth after our own individual deaths) plays an essential role in us valuing much of what we do. He argues, provocatively, that if a collective afterlife did not exist we would cease to value much of what we do (his “afterlife conjecture”). This includes our valuing research in science, technology and medicine; social and political activism; building or reforming social or cultural institutions; improving the physical infrastructure of society; protecting the environment; and procreation. But possibly even our valuing artistic, musical, and literary projects; philosophy, history, and theoretical physics; and the pleasures of food, drink, and sex (the thesis gets more provocative…). Scheffler’s afterlife conjecture is arrived at after he images two scenarios in which there is no collective afterlife: (1) a doomsday scenario where the earth is completely destroyed 30 days after your individual death, and (2) an infertility scenario where we face the immanent disappearance of human life on earth.

Scheffler believes that there are several important insights from these thought experiments about the nature of how and what we value, including that we are less self-sufficient than we are inclined to believe (what Scheffler controversially characterizes as “the limits of egoism” in our valuing), that our valuing has a non-experiential dimension given that we are distressed and affected by the disappearance of a collective afterlife that we will not experience, that our valuing has a conservative dimension given that we care so much that the things and people that we value be sustained or preserved through time, and that our valuing has a non-consequentialist dimension given that our evaluations of the badness of the afterlife conjecture are immediate and not a result of us adding up the net positives and negatives of humanity ending.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.