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Julie Livingston: “Figuring the Tumor: Photography, Self, and Cancer”

April 4, 2014 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

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.

About the Speaker: Julie Livingston is a professor of history at Rutgers University. Her work is at the intersection of history, anthropology, and public health. She is interested in the human body as a moral condition, and care as a social practice. Livingston is the author of Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic (Duke University Press, 2012), and Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana (Indiana University Press, 2005). Her co-edited works include Interspecies (with Jasbir Puar) a special issue of Social Text, Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions (with Keith Wailoo, Steven Epstein, and Robert Aronowitz), and A Death Retold: Jesica Santillan, the Bungled Transplant, and the Paradoxes of Medical Citizenship (with Keith Wailoo and Peter Guarnacchia). She is currently beginning research on the aftermaths of suicide in New York City. Livingston was a fellow and co-director of a research group on contemporary dilemmas of clinical practice in Africa at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2010-11), and is the recipient of the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing (2013), and the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Wellcome Medal (2012). In 2013 she was named a MacArthur fellow.


April 4, 2014
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm