Moving on from Election 2016

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Suffrage_universel.pngIf you follow this blog, you know that our primary focus has been health and humanities, the intersection of medicine and social and cultural studies. But today, half the country feels they have swallowed a bitter pill. The other half feel that they’ve been vindicated, perhaps, but all can agree that this has been the most unhealthy election cycle in living memory. I found myself listening to the results in the wee hours, and then reflecting on what this might mean, not only for our nation, but also for our small communities and families. I want to provide here some encouragement, some insight, and we as a forum want to give our readers a sense of solidarity–for we are with you.

To those who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton, I say this. The grief you feel is real and you have a right to it. As with any loss, the anger and shock are feelings that we must work through. But let’s remember that despair and hope are not feelings, but choices. We must work against despair, even at our darkest moments, because despair is paralyzing. We must choose hope, because hope cannot stand without us. But also, while you mourn the loss of a dream, be assured: this was still a historic moment. You voted for the first Continue reading “Moving on from Election 2016”

Book Review: The New Jim Crow

BookReviewLogo Review by Heather Stewart

In this powerful work of scholarship and social critique, Ohio State University Law Professor and former director of the Racial Justice Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Michelle Alexander, provides an unparalleled look into the system of mass incarceration in the United States. Her analysis proceeds with a particular eye towards the deeply racialized elements of mass incarceration, of which she contends comprises a new and complex system of “racial caste” (12). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess (The New Press, 2010) provides a compelling case for Alexander’s challenge to the widespread belief that American society, with its Barack Obama presidency and pervasive “colorblind” ideology, has finally achieved racial equality (11). Alexander takes readers through the criminal justice system in the United States, showing how racial inequality and race-based discrimination is ubiquitous at every step.

6792458Tracing how the racialized system of mass incarceration grew out of the remnants of slavery and Jim Crow, as well as a series of discriminatory governmental policies and court decisions, Alexander shows us that far from ending racial caste in America, the powerful elite have merely found a clever way to redesign it. Tucking the new racial caste system away within the confines of a “legitimate” institution—the well designed American prison-industrial complex—functions to render it invisible, as well as resistant to change. The New Jim Crow is both a response and a challenge to the systematic invisibility of the racial dynamics of the American criminal justice system, as well as a call to action for racial justice advocates to take on the task of ending mass incarceration as their crucial aim. Alexander calls for a radically new approach to racial justice—one that puts a focus on ending mass incarceration at its center and rejects the deeply ingrained commitments to “colorblind” ideology (whereby individuals claim not to “see race” or that policies are “race neutral” when indeed they disproportionately affect people of color in practice).

Continue reading “Book Review: The New Jim Crow”

Introducing Intern, First Class: Hanna Sophie Frey

DailyDose_PosterThis week, we are featuring a post by our new Intern, First Class, Hanna Sophie Frey.

Hanna Sophie is an anthropologist from Munich, who is currently working towards a Master´s degree in archives at Simmons College in Boston. She is doing research on the production of knowledge, its connections to Science and Technology Studies, and Material Culture Studies. You can find her on twitter @hannasophiefrey.

Without further ado, here is Hanna Sophie.

HannaSommer2015As the new intern first class, anthropologist and archivist in training, this is what I nerd out about:

Remember The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman? Remember the ghosts and their stories lost to most human ears?

Medhum Fiction | Daily Dose has shown me so many of the ghost-stories of history. Just last week, Anna reviewed From Eve to Evolution, a book detailing the female voices confronted with the possibilities and changes to the category “woman,” instigated by a new general discussion around evolutionary theory. This story has not been told yet, but Anna found another silence within this closed gap: the issue of race as part of feminist discourse between Darwin and theology.

The relationships between the voices heard and the realities forgotten are part of the political aspect of archives and history, which is exactly why I am on my way to becoming an archivist. I have seen archives as both spaces full of dusty boxes and shiny new shelves on wheels, I have seen ink fingerprints on manuscripts from the nineteenth century, and I am reading about the struggle to preserve technologies that evolve faster than our budgets. In all these experiences and readings, I have never seen archives as neutral spaces. Archives collect, they preserve, they make accessible, and they do so as institutions and as individuals. They (we) are tied to their backgrounds and biases as political beings, and as such, we work in a sensitive spot in our society´s memory-practices.

These political interactions with primary sources are vital to the keeping of memories, and I use the plural here on purpose. Sources carry multiple stories in them, which can again be read in a multitude of ways. These pluralities are communicated in a political space, as we negotiate meanings by interacting with the sources, both as researchers and as archivists.

Archivists can perform these interactions almost invisibly to their patron´s eyes, but this does not have to be the case. The way we process the collections gives us unique views on the content of the dusty boxes and shiny shelves, and our biases and general humanity shapes the way we arrange and describe the collections. This fact does not have to be invisible. We can talk about it. We can have discussions, as patrons and archivists, on the way we see and experience the collections we interact with. If we bring multiple perspectives together in the writing of history, everybody profits. That is the potential of archives. They give us the possibility to interact with each other and past stories, to create multiple perspectives of the past. Archives are the place where we can find the stories that show us history as a web of experiences.

So go into your local archive, use their excellent online databases, and engage in a conversation.

Let´s collaborate in archives as political spaces, and build intersections of perspectives.

We can also start the conversation right here, in the comment section, or through your submission to our CfP! Or you can join the DERAIL forum at Simmons College, a student organized conference about highlighting critical approaches to Library and Information Science practice and education.

Review Conversations: Galileo’s Middle Finger

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Monday! Today we have an unusual treat. Galileo’s Middle Finger is Alice Dreger’s third book-length work in the history and ethics of medicine; her previous books are Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex and One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal. She also works as an activist in the area of patient advocacy and you can watch her 2010 TED talk, Is Anatomy Destiny?, online. Today’s post has been composed by two of the Dose’s brilliant reviewers, Hanna and Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. Galileo’s Middle Finger, they explain, uses Dreger’s own experience, as well as researched case studies in politics of science, to explore the role (historical and scientific) evidence plays — or doesn’t play — in advancing human knowledge and flourishing. But today’s review offers something new:

“As historians with an interest in both medical history and social justice work, we decided to read the book and have a conversation about it. Here is an edited version of that conversation.”
~ Hanna & Anna Clutterbuck-Cook

REVIEW IN CONVERSATION:

GalileosMiddleFinger_cover_0-300x453Anna: I first became aware of Alice Dreger’s work several years ago, and when I saw Galileo’s Middle Finger coming out, I was excited to see that she was going to tackle the question of science and social justice. I have an overall positive response to the notion of “evidence-based activism,” though having read the book I can’t shake the feeling that Dreger leans really heavily on the scientific method as a solution to social and political conflict — like, if only people would pay attention to the evidence we’d all get along. That activists would stop attacking scientists as anti-social justice, and scientists would stop practicing medicine that was contrary to human well-being. I’m just not sure it’s that’s simple.

Hanna: I had never heard of the author before this book. She’s an excellent storyteller. She does a very good job at breaking apart some very complicated scientific-cultural concepts, particularly walking through the vagaries of intersex really well without giving the sense of talking down to the reader — really common in this genre of popular science writing. Or of being bored having to stop and explain the basics — she is still finding explaining these concepts really interesting, which communicates itself on the page.

In terms of the conception of science, she’s very positivist about how evidence should be treated, like if you have evidence showing one thing or another go with that! We found this thing and it’s great! It reads as if she’s found a very satisfactory trial-and-error system for herself. But just presenting the evidence doesn’t always lead people to your way of thinking.

Anna: I hadn’t thought about it with that framing, as a very historically-specific view of empirical data collection. For me it was a question of, well, saying “evidence-based” is great, but evidence is never pure, it’s never without a bias or perspective. Like, at one point she writes about “the dangerous intellectual rot occurring within certain branches of academe – the privileging of politics over evidence” (139). Yes, sometimes one group of people is making claims completely not grounded in data. But sometimes we’re looking at the same data and drawing different conclusions! I’m not sure where these “certain branches of academe” are that she’s talking about — and she never really persuasively documents that level of “rot.”

What Galileo does offer are some pretty spectacular case-studies of personal vendettas and in-fighting in fields like anthropology, psychology, medicine — I don’t think this amounts to a pattern of retreat from the evidence so much as it does examples of shitty human behavior even in professional contexts.

Hanna: Nobody looks at evidence in a vacuum — you look at it in a whole collection of how else you see the world … ideologically, institutionally, ad lib into infinity. Pure research is not pure research, nor are conclusions, and none of those are presented in a scientific-cultural bubble. Popularizations add a whole separate level of complexity. They may not in the control of the person doing the original research, but know what you’re getting into — and don’t act surprised if people are upset about the way your research is used in the real world!

Anna: A scientist who draws an unpopular conclusion shouldn’t be professionally pilloried, okay, but it felt sometimes like Dreger glossed over the ways in which some of the individuals she profiled may have done sound science and faced unjust harassment — but perhaps for reasons that shouldn’t be overlooked. I don’t think Dreger, as an activist and patient advocate overlooks those effects — but in the space of these narratives it often feels like she’s constructed stories with scientific martyrs and social justice villains. Which I think unfairly undermines her larger point!

Hanna: It’s like she’s talking, at times, to what I think of as “the old school” of activist? Like she was talking to the people who told my college therapist she couldn’t couldn’t be a feminist because she was a dyke! Like, who quotes Camille Paglia anymore?

Anna: Well, Camille Paglia quotes Camille Paglia these days, but … ! Yeah, I mean, I felt like she was talking to a very particular set of academics and activists from the 1980s and 90s who had very firm sway on select subcultures within both academia and politics — but were never actually hegemonic. Like the chapter in which she talks about the researcher who supposedly attracts the ire of feminists for his theory that rapists are partially motivated by sexual desire in committing rape. I don’t think the “rape is violence, not sex” theory was ever as simplistic as she glosses it to be — nor do I think it saturated American jurisprudence and popular culture to the extent she argues. The people I know who do work in sexual violence prevention don’t seem to be arguing that sexual violence is not, on some level, sexual violence. It felt like a very forced dichotomy — scientists vs. feminists! — that doesn’t match with my own reading or observation in terms of how these conversations play out across multiple communities and platforms.

Hanna: Theory junkies. I mean, there are a few in every college. Either you were a fanboy for that sort of thing or you weren’t, and you took classes accordingly.

Anna: I guess what I felt like reading Galileo was, there’s this privileging not just of evidence — which I’m in favor of! — but also a privileging of certain ways of interacting with the evidence. I think of sitting in a discussion class and requiring students to ground their arguments in the week’s readings: “Where do you see this in the reading?” “Where are you getting this from?” But it’s important to allow for a multiplicity of lenses through which to look at the readings, and understand that people will make sense of a body of evidence in diverse ways.

Hanna: Dreger has got about three or four ginormous subjects — they’re book-length subjects and they’re huge and they’re complicated and whether it was her decision, or something she worked out with a publisher, she’s only got the space to nod toward all the complexities. And she nods — I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t know the complexity there! But I think this also goes back to what you were saying that you felt it was more of a book that was a collection of essays.

Anna: It’s really episodic – I felt more grounded as a reader when I thought of it as a collection of essays grouped around a common theme. She makes the case for robust science journalism at the end, and that kind of felt like a forced conclusion coming out of left field — related to the other pieces, but not necessarily a culmination or conclusion.

Hanna: There was no clear transition between topics. Every time I realized there was a shift, I wanted to say, “Wait! We were in the middle of something interesting with– Wait a minute!” I didn’t want to be led by the hand — I wish she’d picked any one topic because she was interesting on all of them! It’s not like she was suffering for lack of material.

Anna: And in each of the episodes, it felt like there was a martyr and a villain.

Hanna: Which is a problem. Why are we here discussing who was right or who was wrong in some of these cases? Because that shouldn’t be happening in a book like this — You shouldn’t be creating a martyrology then you’re stuck with a really inflexible framework.

Anna: Even starting out with the anecdote about Galileo’s finger on display in Florence —

Hanna: — That was wonderful! I think it’s totally worth pointing out that that was a wonderful anecdote!

Anna: It was! But framing the book with the story of Galileo’s martyrdom sets the stage for seeing these case-study characters as martyrs in the cause of truth … which means some of the effects of their work are glossed over. I’m totally against the type of harassment and baseless accusations some of these individuals faced; character assassination should not be the way forward. But character assassination happens across the political spectrum, and happens both to researchers and activists. It’s not always one camp against the other.

Hanna: In fairness, over-simplification is another hazard of trying to write about science for a popular audience — it’s very hard to know when you’ve explained enough. When can I stop explaining people? When am I treating people like they’re idiots? When is something common knowledge?

Anna: I guess what I mean is “define your terms”? Because take a term like “politically correct” or “identity activism,” both of which she uses. There’s no collective agreement about what that means, and when you employ that language you’re invoking a whole host of very polarizing arguments about whether those are useful terms — and for whom and to describe what. Maybe I’m just agreeing with you that it needed to be at least two books — maybe more!

Hanna: I’d say in the end result, we’ve certainly had a number of fruitful conversations around it, so it’s definitely worth the read.

Anna: I do agree — I think it’s a thoughtful and passionate contribution to the discussion about medicine and human rights, about expectations in different disciplines around research and evidence, and about how these conversations are (or aren’t) brought out of academia into the public sphere.

 Thank you to both Hanna and Anna, and to Alice Dreger, whose works have offered such incredible discussions! As someone who writes for the public, I can attest personally to the difficulties of compressing time–and express appreciation for the engagement of fellow colleagues and scholars.

We hope you enjoyed this “Review Conversation” as much as we did! Read more about Dreger’s work here.