MEM Working Group announces upcoming talks by Andrew Lakoff and Julie Livingston

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The Moral Economies of Medicine Working Group with support from the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities is pleased to announce upcoming talks by Dr. Andrew Lakoff and Dr. Julie Livingston.

Andrew Lakoff: “The Risks of Preparedness: Mutant Bird Flu and the Politics of Global Public Health” (March 21, Alumni 308)

Lakoff_March 21 FlierTalk abstract: What kind of problem does an experimental virus pose for the public? The answer depends in part on which public one has in mind. During the controversy that began in late 2011 over the laboratory creation of a mutant strain of H5N1 avian influenza, at least three different publics were conjured. First, there was a vulnerable public, whose health was to be protected against a deadly pandemic through risk mitigation and preparedness measures. Second, there was a threatening public: here the problem was to restrict access to potentially dangerous knowledge about the virus to those who would use it for legitimate scientific purposes. And third, there appeared an ignorant public whose unfounded fears threatened to stifle scientific advance: this public needed to be informed of the benefits of what might at first glance appear to be frightening research. What was at stake in the invocation of these various publics in the mutant bird flu affair? This talk suggests that, rather than a conflict between scientific authorities and a fearful public, or between open inquiry and the demands of security, the controversy should be understood as a conflict among experts over different conceptualizations of an uncertain situation. As the controversy unfolded, a fracture appeared in the existing alliance between life scientists and global public health authorities around the uncertain threat of avian influenza.

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Julie Livingston: “Figuring the Tumor: Photography, Self, and Cancer” (April 4, Venable Hall G311)

Talk abstract: This paper considers a series of photographs and other visual images present in the oncology ward of the central referral hospital in Botswana where a cancer epidemic is rapidly emerging. The images depict the bodies of patients with very egregious and disturbing tumors. They are difficult to look at, and I do not intend to display them. Instead, based on extensive ethnographic research in the ward, the paper considers the productive work that these photographs perform, not for the viewer, but for the photographic subject. Querying the relationship between objectivity, subjectivity, and surface in bodily experience, the discussion explores how such images might assist patients phenomenologically and ethically in separating tumor from self, and in validating and socializing the obscenity of advanced cancer.

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