Call for contributions for an edited volume: At the Limits of Biomedicine
Anthropological Inquiries into Health, Politics and the Environment

Janina Kehr, Ciara Kierans (Editors)

Argument

Medicine is central to everyday life. Biomedicine, in particular, has acquired hegemonic status. It governs human survival as the sine qua non of contemporary health: an unassailable good. The recent Covid-19 pandemic is testament to this. However, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that such biomedical disease categories are almost impossible to locate and by extension irreducible to cause-effect relations. Covid, in many critical ways, has socialised biomedicine – and in doing so, shows what we encounter at its limits: fragile healthcare infrastructures and ecosystems; uneven supply chains; the precarity of employment; gender and racial inequality; the interconnectedness of economies; environmental degradation, as well as entangled more-than-human relations with raw materials, with animals, with the climate, with new technologies.

At the limits of biomedicine are the kinds of dispossession that condition disease emergence in the first place and that produce forms of haphazard care, bound to the calculus of cost and benefit. At the limits, we find a medicine dependent on outsourcing to private markets and to kith and kin. Similarly, we find its research agenda driven by vested interests and an evidence base which makes clear what does and doesn’t count as knowledge. This economic and epistemological narrowing is at variance with conditions which complicate acceptable standards of proof: environmentally induced diseases; toxicities; occupational harms; the multiplying effects of comorbidities and long-standing inequalities. Moreover, the problems of living and surviving on a contaminated planet is one in which biomedicine itself is a direct contributor via medical waste, emissions and resource extraction. In a world of unequally distributed harms where some lives are valued over others, our attachments to biomedicine as well as our awareness of its limits requires scrutiny: what is the nature of our engagement with biomedicine; how can we understand it; what methods and methodologies matter; who authorises knowledge; where are interventions best focused and in what ways does anthropology matter?

We extend this concern with limits also to the arenas which once provided a counter-narrative to biomedical reductionisms, such as public health – itself curtailed by epistemic constrictions, bound to discourses of determinism, behaviourism and a prevailing focus on short-term policy responses.


Invitation to Contribute

We are motivated by ethnographic engagements with biomedicine’s limits and forms of inquiry into alternative etiologies, as well as the openings they might provide for reconceptualisation, methodological innovation and intervention. We, hereby, invite ethnographic and theoretical contributions into the limits of biomedicine in the contemporary world for an edited volume for the EASA series at Berghahn (https://www.berghahnbooks.com/series/easa). In the tradition of critical medical anthropology, we suggest to shift anthropological analyses away from physiological/medical categories to the larger environmental, economic and political circumstances that co-produce health and ill-health, focusing on alternative etiologies (and by extension) alternative interventions.

We conceive of the limits of biomedicine as a distinct narrowing of concern on at least three levels: conceptual, political and (infra)structural

- (1) Biomedicine is limited conceptually through a primary focus on discrete causal frameworks bound to the production of the disease category, and with direct consequences for care. This contributes to obfuscating the complex relationships between environments and (ill-)health, and how they are caught within world-spanning capitalist and potentially toxic political economies;

- (2) Biomedicine is limited politically, as the dominance of biomedical frames of reasoning mask the ideological, politically expedient and vested-interests that shape the provision and access to care;

- (3) Biomedicine is limited through the persistent and long-standing neglect of diverse actors, ranging from governments to international authorities and professional groups to accommodate structural and infrastructural concerns in health.

If one can no longer attribute diseases to single causes, localities, agents, or actors, what is the status of the biomedical paradigm? Whose responsibility and priority is it to heal and provide care and for whom? What then is the role of the state, the institutions of welfare and health care; the role of the market and market actors? Where does accountability lie for the production of contemporary harm and health? What are our responsibilities as global and national citizens? In sum, how are people cared for today, when viable care seems increasingly difficult to enact and when harm and health is distributed so unevenly?

Please send your abstracts (300-400 words) to Janina Kehr (janina.kehr@univie.ac.at) and Ciara Kierans (c.kierans@liverpool.ac.uk) by 15 September 2022.


Proposed timetable of the Publication Process

15th of September 2022: deadline for abstract submission to editors

October: notification of authors

January 2022: submission of Book Proposal to Berghahn

April 30, 2022: submission of draft manuscripts to editors

June 2023: workshopping of draft manuscripts with authors

August 2023: submission of second manuscript to editors, second feedback round

November 31st, 2023: submission of final manuscripts to editors

January 2023: submission of full book manuscript to Berghahn

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