September Updates

In the excitement of the Summer Research Showcase, I forgot to post this September! Apologies for that. It was so nice to be around other undergraduate researchers and to feel more connected to the process and community overall.

In the past few weeks, I have been doing as much reading as possible, drawing mainly from the history and sociology of medicine shelves. There have been so many inspirational texts, but as I work through the annotated bibliography, it’s important to limit myself to certain methods and sources. And as much as my original project focused on race and medicalization (not to mention young people), I am increasingly finding more texts and primary sources that address gender and medicalization in adults. Part of this shift is because I have moved away from the practice of medicine and into the historical and social study of genetics, specifically the human genome. Science and medicine are currently in what scholars call the postgenomic period (referring to the fact that the Human Genome Project finished in 2003). In this period, scholars are increasingly interested in research ethics, genetic counseling, and the pursuit of human perfection that sequencing the human genome appears to unlock.

Key books in this section that disprove the trend toward gender studies rather than critical race studies: Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan and Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-Genomic Age by Jonathan Kahn (both from Columbia University Press) and Race Decoded: The Genomic Fight for Social Justice by Catherine Bliss (Stanford University Press). These books are a bit difficult to generalize about, because they feature such different disciplinary approaches and sources. They are, however, giving me lots of ideas about possible directions to topics!

Another part of the shift from race and medicalization to gender and medicalization might be because more and more mainstream authors are writing about medicine. For example, Siddhartha Mukherjee — physician, author of the immensely influential The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, and winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for that book — wrote a book entitled The Gene earlier this year. In other words, I am not just working through literature from the 1960s and on (often having to decide what qualifies as a primary source and what I can take as a secondary source, which will be easier with a concrete time frame for the project), but with literature that is still coming out. With a few notable exceptions, most of which are autobiographical, titles from trade publishing houses are not particularly interested in race. Instead, it is easier to focus on a disease, the wider idea of epidemics and contagion theories, or the role of the physician as a human, but not necessarily race in America as it intersects with a specific historical moment. My decision now is basically how much of the genetic side of things I want to explore, and if it’s more productive to stick with the DSM and a history of psychiatry, instead of sliding down a few levels of analysis from the body to the gene.

With all of these potential influences in mind, I am also starting to pull my outline together and look forward to sharing more details with blog update at the end of October. Till then, thanks for reading and happy researching!