Tag: sociology

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Water, Health, & Social Justice

Shawn H.E. Harmon and Janice E. Graham advocate for a public interest approach to the governance of water.

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Earlier this month, a boil water advisory was issued for Schreiber Ontario. Such advisories are not uncommon in Canada, despite it being one of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries. In 2015, there were over 1,838 boil water advisories, including 139 in First Nations and Inuit communities, where an estimated 20,000 Indigenous Canadians have no access to running water or sewage. Boil water advisories were placed in 29 Nova Scotia communities on 21 December 2016. On that same day, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared access to broadband internet a basic service. If access to the internet is critical to our economy, prosperity, and society, and to every citizen, as suggested in the CRTC decision, then water can be nothing less than an inalienable right, tied up as it is with life, health, and human flourishing.

Relevant fundamental human rights are enumerated in Articles 1-3 and 26-29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and in many other legal instruments. As well, the right to “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water” has been recognized by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The European Declaration for a New Water Culture, published in 2005, encouraged a holistic approach to water that recognizes its ethical, environmental, social, economic, political, and emotional value, as well as its natural inclusion in the Heritage of the Biosphere. A subsequent 2006 United Nations Report characterized water as an essential component of security and development.

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.

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#SoComplicatedSyllabus – Check it out and please contribute! by Deborah Levine

“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject…Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” said Donald J. Trump on Monday, February 27, at a press conference. This was his answer to a question about the then-seemingly stalled, but as of now reinvigorated, plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care law that is—both derisively and affectionately, depending on your political affiliations—known as Obamacare.

Pundits and journalists weighed in quickly with snarky jokes; it seemed they couldn’t help themselves. “Nobody? Nobody! Of course, everybody knows that health care reform is complicated,” said Jordan Weissman at Slate.com. On Twitter, thousands tried their hands at memes and quips, many of which paired pictures of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders laughing next to Donald Trump’s quote. Others remarked that they themselves must be “nobodies,” since they knew well that health care was complicated.

Perhaps unintentionally, the President actually made a really important point. If you aren’t someone who spends much time thinking about or studying the U.S. health care system, it can be stunning just how complex every aspect of the system is. I trained as a historian of medicine, and I teach undergraduate courses on the workings of the American health care system in a policy program. My students are continually surprised by the contradictory inequalities and complexities of our so-called “system.” In the fall of 2015, after participating at a conference with an international audience of scholars in Dublin, Ireland, the overarching question I got over dinner, from a highly educated audience of peer academics, was one of incredulous dismay, and amounted to: Is this really how the health care system in the US works?

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.

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In the Journals: February 2017 by Christine Sargent

American Ethnologist

Good ramps, bad ramps: Centralized design standards and disability access in urban Russian infrastructure

Cassandra Hartblay

Accessible design seeks to reconfigure the social by restructuring the material. As the idea moves globally, it becomes entwined in local logics of moral obligations between citizens and the state. Wheelchair users in the city of Petrozavodsk, in northwestern Russia, talk about inaccessible infrastructure as being embedded in moral relationships. In their stories, hierarchies of expertise diffuse responsibility for outcomes and devalue user knowledge. When accessible design elements are installed to meet minimum standards, they are “just for the check mark” and often do not “work.” Wheelchair ramps produce value for businesses or governments by representing an idea of access that circulates as a commodity. Failed accessible design draws attention to a moral field governing the responsibilities of actors to produce a “good” built environment, imbricated in teleologies of progress. [disability, design, infrastructure, access, ramps, postsocialism, Russia]

Self-governance, psychotherapy, and the subject of managed care: Internal Family Systems therapy and the multiple self in a US eating-disorders treatment center

Rebecca J. Lester

“The self” has seen a surprising resurgence in recent anthropological theorizing, revitalizing interest in whether and how it can be studied ethnographically. These issues are brought to the fore by a newly popular psychotherapy technique, Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS), as practiced in a US eating-disorders clinic. There, clinicians and clients negotiate tensions between this model’s understanding of a multiple, refracted self and managed-care companies’ insistence on personal responsibility. In considering the moral and pragmatic work of IFS in the clinic, a new critical anthropology of selfhood illuminates the vectors through which economic and political commitments become imbricated in the self.

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.

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Biofinance: Speculation, Risk, Debt, and Value from Bios: A conference report by Danya Glabau

How does the financialization of life itself figure as a new means of producing value in modern technoscience? That is the question that motivated Kirk Fiereck to convene the panel “Biofinance: Speculation, Risk, Debt, and Value from Bios” at the 2016 American Anthropological Association meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota this November. Fiereck, panelists Melina Sherman, Danya Glabau, and Emily Xi Lin, discussant Kristin Peterson, and chair David Pederson, offered new ways to think about how financialized life is a source of value, and what this means for the ethics and practice of biomedicine in sites throughout the globe.

In writing this conference report, Fiereck, Sherman, and Glabau each contributed short comments about their talks, which were edited together in the unified first half of this report. The second half includes further reflections that we have attributed to each scholar individually as a way to illustrate the diverse, possibly divergent, uses of “biofinance” as a concept.

 

The Papers

Melina Sherman opened the panel with, “Biofinancial Investments and Disinvestments: Examining the U.S. Opioid Epidemic,” which focused on the cultural and institutional construction of pharmaceutical markets – in particular, the market for prescription painkillers. Markets, especially those situated within the bioeconomy – an economic space in which capital is organized through life (bios) in its various forms – constitute the broader context in which biofinancial practices are situated. Her paper explored the ways in which the selective investments and divestments of federal regulators and opioid consumers condition the growth of this market. The market for prescription opioids is a good example of what Sherman calls an “addiction market” (see also Lovell, 2006), where addiction (understood as a destructive attachment – in this case, of a person to a prescription drug) is built-in to the cultural and economic processes that drive market formation and growth.

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.

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Neuroethics and the Third Offset Strategy

By Jonathan D. Moreno
Jonathan D. Moreno is the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania where he is a Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) professor. At Penn he is also Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, of History and Sociology of Science, and of Philosophy. Moreno is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and is the U.S. member of the UNESCO International Bioethics Committee. A Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., Moreno has served as an adviser to many governmental and non-governmental organizations, including three presidential commissions, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Moreno has written several books, including Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network (2014), The Body Politic, Mind Wars (2012), and Undue Risk (2000). He has also published hundreds of papers, articles, reviews and op-eds, and frequently contributes to such publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and Nature. In 2008-09 he served as a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team. His work has also been cited by Al Gore and was used in the development of the screenplay for “The Bourne Legacy.”

A new U.S. strategic doctrine called the third offset poses an important challenge for the field of neuroethics.

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.

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A social scientist’s guide to the Final Rule

On 18 January 2017, sixteen federal agencies announced revisions to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects. As I noted earlier, this marks a huge victory for historians, who have spent the last 20 years working to end the inappropriate interference of IRBs with oral history research.

In addition, the final rule includes several provisions of note to scholars in the humanities and social sciences. Here are some of them; I don’t claim it is a complete list.

No biospecimens overhaul; less controversy

The final rule “does not adopt the proposal to require that research involving nonidentified biospecimens be subject to the Common Rule, and that consent would need to be obtained in order to conduct such research.” This was the target of the greatest criticism from groups like the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and SACHRP. So while this change has little direct bearing on the work of social scientists and scholars in the humanities, it will likely reduce the controversy surrounding the regulatory reform as a whole.

The abandonment of the biospecimens proposal could also reduce opposition to reform by conservatives. The House Freedom Caucus opposed a new Common Rule on the grounds that it would cost $13.334 billion over 10 years. This figure seems to have been drawn from the NPRM’s quantified costs of $13.342 billion (using a 3 percent discount rate), and ignored the NPRM’s quantified benefits of $2.6 billion. If all the Freedom Caucus cares about is money, it may like the final rule a lot more.

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.

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The Practical Ethics of University Engagement

The Arrighi Center for Global Studies has been awarded funding from the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics Program for a project titled “The Practical Ethics of University Engagement: Lessons from the Local and Global.” The project explores ethical issues that arise out of the historical legacies of racial and class inequalities, both within the university and between the university and community. Through a year-long General Seminar involving faculty and students, the project will critically examine experiences with community-based learning/research, service-learning and university transformation, with a special emphasis on learning from the experiences of colleagues facing analogous challenges around the world, from the UK to China and South Africa.

 

Here, Beverly Silver (Director of the Arrighi Center for Global Studies and Chair of the Sociology Department), Sahan Karatasli and Daniel Pasciuti (Assistant Research Scientists at the Arrighi Center), Chris Westcott (PhD candidate in English) and Christopher Nealon (Chair of the English Department), answer our questions.

 

What inspired this project?

 

When the Arrighi Center for Global Studies was established in 2012, our goal was to provide a space for a critical analysis of urgent problems arising from contemporary processes of globalization, including ethical debates around questions of local/global governance, democratic entitlements, violence, and inequality. The April 2015 uprising in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray gave a new sense of urgency to our desire to focus directly on the ethical dimensions of contemporary capitalism, as it not only put a spotlight on the deep racial and class disparities in the city but also brought to the surface a set of urgent ethical questions about the relationship between the university and the community.

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.

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In The Journals – November by Christine Sargent

Hello trusty readers. Check out November’s haul for “In The Journals,” and be sure to check out the special issue of Science, Technology, and Human Values: Feminist Postcolonial Technosciences.

 

American Ethnologist:

Memory, body, and the online researcher: Following Russian street demonstrations via social media (open access)

Patty A. Gray

The Moscow street demonstrations of 2011–12 were the largest public gatherings in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were also the largest-ever gathering of Russians on social media. While using the Internet to follow such large-scale social movements remotely, researchers experience social media as a context in which anthropology happens. They may think about “being there” in new ways that shift their focus to their own processes of memory making and sense of bodily presence. Experiencing and remembering social media in the body challenges the distinctions we might otherwise make between virtual and physical encounters.

Royal pharmaceuticals: Bioprospecting, rights, and traditional authority in South Africa

Christopher Morris

The translation of international biogenetic resource rights to a former apartheid homeland is fostering business partnerships between South African traditional leaders and multinational pharmaceutical companies. In the case of one contentious resource, these partnerships are entrenching, and in some instances expanding, apartheid-associated boundaries and configurations of power. The state and corporate task of producing communities amenable to biodiversity commercialization and conservation is entangled with segregationist laws and spatial planning. Rather than exclusion and the closure of ethnic boundaries, resource rights in this context foreground forced enrollment and the expansion of indigenous group-membership as modes of capitalist accumulation in an extractive economy.

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.

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Contribute to a new series: “Aftermath” by Eugene Raikhel

Somatosphere invites readers to submit to “Aftermath,” a new series examining the consequences of recent nationalist political turns throughout the world, including the US election. We are particularly interested in pieces which reflect on how these events intersect with the thematic concerns of the site – health, medicine and science, broadly construed. We especially welcome pieces which draw on original empirical materials or which bring conceptual materials from anthropology, history, sociology, STS, public health, cultural psychiatry and related disciplines to bear on the current situation. In the interest of cultivating vital discussion and circulating ideas quickly in response to a rapidly changing political environment, we encourage submissions that may seem sketchy, drafty, or unpolished.  Potential topics might include but are in no way limited to:

  • Possible effects of the 2016 election on the Affordable Care Act
  • Mental health and the aftermath of the election
  • Health-related dimensions of the Brexit vote and the upswing in nationalist political movements throughout Europe
  • The changing politics and science of:
    • abortion and reproductive technologies
    • climate science
    • evidentiary practices surrounding racial and ethnic categories
    • threats to disabilities policies
  • Resources for teaching about the current political condition, particularly as it affects health, medicine and science
  • Strategies for activist academics in the current political climate

Please send your suggestions for pieces, completed pieces, or inquiries to admin@somatosphere.net

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.

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Is It Okay to Say that Research ‘Verges on Scientific Racism’? by Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Last fall, a group of researchers – mostly biological anthropologists and sleep researchers – published a study of three ‘pre-industrial’ communities, one in Latin America, two in Africa, and claimed that based on their data, consolidated nightly sleep is a human norm, inferring that it is the product of natural selection. The media picked up the research findings, and I read write ups of it in a number of outlets, which led me to the original article and sparked conversations with me and other sleep-interested scholars about the validity of the research. A couple of months later, I was asked by the editor of Sleep Health if I would like to respond to the findings of the article (which you can find here), in part because the researchers made an argument against a claim that I have made – corroborating Roger Ekirch – that human sleep has only recently consolidated, largely as a result of industrial capitalism in the 19th century. But I was primarily motivated by the anthropology-informed opportunity to point out that no contemporary society offers us a window to some pre-industrial past or earlier evolutionary moment. To suggest otherwise – and here I’m quoting myself – ‘verges on scientific racism.’

So what was the assumption that the researchers were working off of that would lead them to such a claim and why would I find it controversial? They took a form of social organization – namely hunter-gatherer foraging – as indicating that the people who practice that form of subsistence share qualities with a stage of human history when that social organization was predominant.

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.