Cultural Studies of Biomedicine emphasize social science research on the culture and political economy of the profession of medicine and health care globally and locally. This field of inquiry emerged in the 1980s, following publication of The Relevance of Social Science for Medicine (Eisenberg and Kleinman, eds. 1981) and Physicians of Western Medicine (Hahn and Gaines, eds. 1987), and was part of the linking of medical anthropology with new critical writings of “the sociology of science.” Since1983, when they joined the Department, Profs. Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good and Byron Good have led the Department’s research in this area, which not only continues to figure significantly in Global Health and Social Medicine curricula but also has grown in importance with the Department’s turn toward global health research.
The Department’s scholarship in this area includes cross-cultural studies of the practice of medicine in low-resource settings and the experience of physicians trained in the most up-to-date forms of medical specialties but practicing without access to adequate facilities, medications, and biotechnologies. It has addressed issues of disparities and inequalities in medical and psychiatric treatment and care, linked to issues of race, ethnicity, and the legacies of slavery and settler colonialism globally, including in the United States; social and ethical issues associated with the practice of medicine in high technology settings; the emergence of new global centers for biotechnologies and biosciences; and the demands to make access to vaccines and routine medical, surgical and end of life technologies available in low-resource settings. This dimension of the Department's commitment to global health equity has critically informed our participation in medical and psychiatric responses to disasters, violence, and dislocation (e.g., in Haiti, Indonesia [Aceh], and West African countries). In addition, comparative studies of medical education, education of health workers, the fundamental experience of providing care, and local forms of medical ethics contribute to the strengthening and rebuilding of health systems within and across communities, in both acute and chronic conditions.
The technical and cultural power of the profession of medicine has been under assault globally by profound inequalities, technological limitations, health systems that compromise the quality of care, and increasing risks for medical errors and mismanagement of patients. At the same time, 21st Century biomedicine and biotechnologies are infused with the optimism of the medical imaginary, the political economy of hope, and the biotechnical embrace. Projects exploring these multiple aspects of contemporary biomedicine and psychiatry in global, comparative, and cross-cultural perspectives are pursued by departmental faculty, fellows, and students from throughout the university.