Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine

Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine

Roger Cooter
with Claudia Stein
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine
    Book Description:

    A collection of ten essays paired with substantial prefaces, this book chronicles and contextualizes Roger Cooter's contributions to the history of medicine. Through an analysis of his own work, Cooter critically examines the politics of conceptual and methodological shifts in historiography. In particular, he examines the "double bind" of postmodernism and biological or neurological modeling that, together, threaten academic history. To counteract this trend, suggests Cooter, historians must begin actively locating themselves in the problems they consider.

    The essays and commentaries constitute a kind of contour map of history's recent trends and trajectories-its points of passage to the present-and lead both to a critical account of the discipline's historiography and to an examination of the role of intellectual frameworks and epistemic virtues in the writing of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18943-8
    Subjects: History, History of Science & Technology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 The End? History-Writing in the Age of Biomedicine (and Before)
    (pp. 1-40)

    There is now a substantial and rapidly expanding literature depicting the transformation of our times through biomedicine, biotechnology, and neurobiology.¹ Written mainly by scholars in sociology, anthropology, and science studies, it reveals how the new life sciences have come fundamentally to challenge our understanding of being human. “Biocitizenship” and “neurological identity,” it claims, have replaced social citizenship in the course of molecular biology and neurobiology’s reduction of human life entirelytoits biology.² A “neuromolecular gaze” is said to have come to reconfigure our moods, desires, and personalities.³ And through visualizations made possible by molecular diagnostic technologies such as DNA...

  6. 2 Anticontagionism and History’s Medical Record
    (pp. 41-63)

    This essay was written in the late 1970s for a volume setting out what was then the new social constructivist approach to medical knowledge.iDrawing on Frankfurt School critical theory, the rediscovery of the early Marx, and the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, it was an attempt to illustrate how knowledge production (held as class production) and power relations were mutually constitutive or interpenetrated. Whereas so-called vulgar Marxism had interpreted knowledge production in terms of an instrumental (assumed direct) relation between it and the repressive power of capitalism, the new approach was to see knowledge as mediated ideology (to the extent...

  7. 3 “Framing” the End of the Social History of Medicine
    (pp. 64-90)

    This essay was written around the turn of the millennium, some two decades after the previous essay. By then there had been a sea change in Anglo-American intellectual life, with the powerful tide of the semantic or literary turn pressing all before it. Academic history was not immune, and voices such as that of Patrick Joyce (a Manchester social historian who had turned postmodern) were coming to be heard in leading journals.iFor the most part, though, historians were resistant to the rising tide, rightly sensing the challenge it posed to their faith in objectivity, never mind its charge that...

  8. 4 The Turn of the Body
    (pp. 91-111)

    Throughout the humanities in the 1980s and 1990s enormous importance came to be attached to the body. It was one of the reasons why the history of medicine suddenly looked sexy. However, by the end of the first decade of the new millennium, when much of that initial interest had dissipated, there was still no article that sought to summarize and problematize the phenomenon. This essay, written in 2008, was my attempt at it. I was then no longer so interested in the historical topics that had preoccupied me in the 1980s and 1990s. I was more intrigued by the...

  9. 5 Coming into Focus Posters, Power, and Visual Culture in the History of Medicine
    (pp. 112-137)

    This essay was first drafted in 2005 for a session on visual culture at the Paris meeting of the European Association for the History of Medicine. Co-authored with Claudia Stein, it was published inMedizinhistorisches Journalin 2007. Its conception predates the essay in the previous chapter by a couple of years. However, it fits better here as a companion piece to the essay that follows. It was itself a sequel of sorts—to a chapter on the history of public health posters produced during epidemics that we wrote together a few years earlier.iWhereas that had concerned itself with...

  10. 6 Visual Objects and Universal Meanings AIDS Posters, “Globalization,” and History
    (pp. 138-159)

    This essay, also co-authored with Claudia Stein, furthers the focus on health posters of the previous chapter, although here dealing exclusively with those on AIDS. Again the concern is with the “visual turn” in relation to history-writing, but added on is the problematic of the spatial turn, which is explored in terms of both the conceptualization of “the global” and that of the physical aesthetic arrangement of objects in museum spaces. Supplementing the question of how visual objects came into being as historical objects is that of how change in their meaning accords with the spaces such objects come to...

  11. 7 The Biography of Disease
    (pp. 160-169)

    Taking on different views of history-writing doesn’t mean abandoning ones that have gone before. This essay and the following one were not undertaken in the spirit of the previous ones, as quests in self-understanding in relation to the politics of history-writing. In terms of this book’s narrative they mark ongoing sideways moves. Both were driven by a sense of responsibility to uphold critical standards in history-writing against unperceived tendencies to its backsliding. Conventionally historiographical, they scrutinize the politics of its writing and conduct some policing of its disciplinary boundaries. Both were also tasked with communicating to audiences outside academic history,...

  12. 8 Inside the Whale Bioethics in History and Discourse
    (pp. 170-182)

    Medical ethics, like the retrospective diagnosis of disease, is a soft target for conventional critique, especially when historicized by its own professionals (bioethicists) for careerist and marketing purposes. Nevertheless, it seems criminal not to, given its international standing and authority in contemporary society and biomedicine. How Western values and virtues have been internationalized through biomedicine is a timely question, and one that historians ought effectively to comment on. But for the most part they don’t. When prompted to write on the subject, they tend to fall into the thin moral gruel of contemporary bioethics itself, going all pious and politically...

  13. 9 Cracking Biopower
    (pp. 183-204)

    I began to think seriously about the subject of this essay when I was asked to review Majia Holmer Nadesan’sGovernmentality, Biopower, and Everyday Life(2008).iIt was one of a number of works then emerging on the topic by sociologists, anthropologists, political philosophers, and others. But I elected to review it only because, for some time before this, Claudia Stein and I had been working on a study of the politics of the visual in the making of “biopublics” in Germany and Britain circa 1880–1920—a study exploring the possibilities of drawing on Foucault’s notion of biopower for...

  14. 10 The New Poverty of Theory Material Turns in a Latourian World
    (pp. 205-228)

    Against the backdrop of the privatization of public universities in Britain and grave concerns over the fate of the humanities in higher education throughout the anglophone world, this essay was written (again with Claudia Stein) out of a heady mix of literary vision and historical exasperation. The vision was Margaret Atwood’s inOryx and Crake(2003) and its sequel,The Year of the Flood(2009). Both novels seemed to us frighteningly accurate depictions of the present embellished with credible predictions of the future to flow from it. They deal with the desperate lives of the few remaining survivors of a...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 229-284)
    (pp. 285-336)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 337-350)