The following session on ‘Visualizing recent biomedicine and public health’ will be held at the Society for the Social History of Medicine’s annual meeting in Warwick (UK), 28-30 June 2006:
Recent studies have shown how Western societies have turned from a culture of medicalization to one of biomedicalization in the 1980s. Our relationship to our bodies, medical knowledge and conceptions of what it means to be a human being have thereby changed in dramatic ways. Huge technological changes have accompanied the new focus on health rather than illness, the increasingly genetic understanding of mankind, individualized medical practices, the domination of the pharmaceutical industry, the crucial role of data processing, statistics and the notion of risk, as well as a rising conception of the human body as molecular and dynamic. The discipline of radiology can be expected to reflect these changes in a very visible way―since its purpose is to produce visual representations of the human body. This paper will explore this hypothesis through the example of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). I will study how the profound socio-bio-medical changes mentioned above have been reflected in, and affected by, the evolution of MRI from morphological towards functional/dynamic imaging (fMRI, DTI). I shall thus follow how the premises for MRI-based research and popular representations of the “MRI-body” (body visualized with MRI) have changed since the introduction of MRI-technology in the 1980s. Among others, I will suggest that the shift from MRI to fMRI is an illustration of a more paradigmatic evolution, that of the “system-body” towards the “molecular-body”. The paper will use material from Swedish research groups and media, and will tentatively discuss in which ways the mainstreaming and circulation of biomedically visualized bodies in society have informed our relationship to the body, psyche, and materiality.
During the last decades the adaptation of information technology to medicine has been described as a paradigm shift in Western health care. It has given rise to a number of technological innovations in surgery, diagnostics, education and patient rehabilitation and provoked new concepts such as cybersurgery, virtual hospitals, digital physicians and telenurses. This paper examines the introduction of simulators and Virtual Reality in Danish medicine. It focuses on an ongoing discussion amongst medical professionals in Copenhagen regarding the relation between simulators and experience, between virtual anatomies and physical bodies. With examples drawn from the State hospital in Copenhagen, I will discuss agents in favour of and against virtual medicine. The paper will also provide an analysis of the 3D-Laboratory, where research on simulation, visual technics and 3D-modelling is carried out.
Epidemiology has a long tradition of producing visual representations of health and disease as patterns in space and time. These practices inform not only our understanding of health and disease, but also shape public health interventions such as screenings, prevention programmes as well as risk management and regulation. This paper will describe an exemplary process of epidemiologic knowledge production starting from research design, data gathering procedures, biostatistical modes of analysis and public health predictions and recommendations. Drawing on selected material of Danish cancer epidemiology, I will discuss the function of visualisations with regard to the epistemic culture of epidemiology and its dynamic, multifactorial aetiologies (including socio-economic and environmental determinants, lifestyle ‘risk factors’, genetic polymorphisms). Thus, I will follow the visual track of contemporary versions of “airs, waters, and places” along the process of knowledge production in cancer epidemiology.
Gene array technology epitomises two major trends in the history of recent biomedical science and biotechnology: first, the convergence of digitalisation and molecularisation; and second, the drive towards individualised therapy. The introduction of Affymetrix GeneChip on the market in 1994-1996 has boosted the expectations of the biomedical research community and the pharmaceutical industry to gene array technology as a major diagnostic tool for individualized drug treatment. The GeneChip has already achived iconic status as a symbol for the alleged transition to postgenomics. In this paper I will discuss the potential of the GeneChip to become a focal point for an exploration of the history and present state of the global biomedical system in terms of ‘biopower’ versus ‘biopolitical production’, espcially its function as a Panopticon device whereby the genetic status of a population is represented and visualized.