In the “From the Archive” series, we highlight articles published throughout the journal’s history. We look forward to sharing with our readers these samples of the innovative research that CMP has published on the cultural life of medicine across the globe.
In this installment of From the Archive, we turn to Mary-Jo Delvecchio Good’s article The Biotechnical Embrace (Vol 25 Issue 4, December 2001.) In this piece, Delvecchio Good frames three concepts in the cultural study of biomedicine: medical imaginaries, biotechnical embraces, and clinical narratives. Here, we will briefly outline these notions.
The medical imaginary, we learn, is the envisioned potential of the new technologies and treatments that medicine could produce in the future. The power of possibility in this sense impacts both clinicians, who are always working to stay ahead of new scientific knowledge, and patients: often those afflicted with diseases for which no current remedy exists. The medical imaginary situates medical progress in a position of hope and opportunity. Stories of medical failure, malpractice, or dearths of medical knowledge, although evidence contrary to establishing an “optimistic” view of the field, are framed in an overarching positive narrative of scientific progress.
Delvecchio Good next describes the biotechnical embrace: the embracing of, and the “being embraced” by technical innovations. This refers to the public “enthusiasm” for biotechnical therapies, as well as the engagement of biotechnologies with the patient’s body. Like the medical imaginary, the biotechnical embrace concept recalls a biomedical commitment to scientific progress and possibility. Even whenever a treatment is highly experimental, not yet approved as effective, or so new that its pitfalls are not fully known, patients will ’embrace’ and request it– and the public will hastily invest in it.
Lastly, we parse the concept of the clinical narrative, or ethnographic frame. This qualitative data is what evidences popular and clinical enthusiasm for bioscientific innovation and the use of the latest technological treatments.
Put simply, narratives can demonstrate that patients and clinicians alike are able to frame care in terms of the gap between what is presently the case, and what might be. For instance, a cancer patient might note the gaps between their condition, current treatments they have used, future therapeutic options, and subsequent clinical outcomes for his or her illness. Clinical narratives remind us that patients (and caregivers) do not view medicine as a static database of information, but instead a dynamic and progressive body of knowledge that exists in relation to illness experiences.
Click here for a link to the abstract and further details about the paper: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A%3A1013097002487