EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P105)
Contagious connections: epidemics of non-communicable diseases and social contagion
Location U6-11
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Lotte Meinert (Århus University) email
  • Ruth Prince (University of Oslo) email

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Chair Jens Seeberg
Discussant Cheryl Mattingly

Short Abstract

In this panel we wish to explore contagious connection and "social contagion" in its epidemic forms in relation to non-communicable diseases. What are relevant units of analysis and scale to theorize contagious connections? How might anthropological legacies contribute to this?

Long Abstract

Challenging the widespread distinction between communicable and non- communicable diseases we take our starting point from the idea that problems such obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, trauma, autism, drug use, ADHD etc. are indeed communicable phenomena. Currently, we are witnessing the rise of significant epidemics of such diseases and conditions globally, but the social dynamics of how they spread are poorly theorized. How can anthropological legacies help theorize contagious connections?

In this panel we want to ask what is spreading, through which processes, and think with notions of shared homes, bodies, substances, emotions, memories and belongings. Specifically we're interested in what are relevant units of analysis and scale: kinship, the body, the person, a social network, the industry, the state, the parastate? What happens in the analytical shift between these units and scales? Also we are interested in how to think about and convey experiences of social contagion, protection and immunity, as well as critical and ethical reflections on the consequences of importing epidemiological notions into the exploration of social relations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Social contagion, contamination and connections in anthropological legacies

Author: Lotte Meinert (Århus University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores concepts of social contagion, contamination, and connections in anthropological legacies and studies and considers various analytics of social contagion for thinking about epidemic futures.

Long Abstract

This paper examines how some of the classical anthropological concepts of diffusion, contamination, communication, imitation, and personhood may contribute to our understanding of epidemics of non-communicable diseases. How might anthropological legacies such as Alfred Kroeber's ideas about cultural diffusion help us understand social epidemics of today? The term contagion used to have wider social connotations and not only medical ones, as Mary Douglas' work has underscored (1966). What can Douglas' as well as Bateson's famous insight that 'we cannot not communicate' (1972) teach us in relation to the global epidemic spread of so-called non-communicable diseases? Is Gabriel Tarde's theory of the social (1899) a theory of social contagion that we have not yet fully appreciated? If we move further back in history and take seriously what Tyler found among South American people a long time ago, "different persons are not necessarily separate beings" (Tylor 1865) What does this mean for how we understand processes of social contagion, units of analysis and social connections?

Autism, contagion and the ethics of care

Author: Cheryl Mattingly (University of Southern California)  email

Short Abstract

Autism is a prime example of a non-contagious “disease” which invites exploration of the social construction of biology. Though a social constructionist approach is illuminating, the moral dimensions of care are easily overlooked. I these from a phenomenological and first person virtue ethics perspective.

Long Abstract

Autism is a prime example of a non-contagious "disease" whose rapid spread, both in the United States and globally, invites exploration of the social construction of biology. It exemplifies how new types of biosociality are developed. It has been marked as a diagnostic epidemic rather than a biological one. Powerful disability activist groups have arisen around it, influencing the direction of scientific research for treatment and cure as well as promoting the expansion of rights and services. Hacking (1999) has described it as a syndrome created through a "looping effect" process in which expert decisions and the populations they designate and define work together to produce new identities. While recognizing the importance of this social constructionist approach, in this paper I address what can easily be overlooked -- the reality of this diagnosis as a lived experience for those suffering from it. From a phenomenological and "first person" virtue ethics perspective, I investigate the strenuous and shifting moral demands parents face when caring for children identified as autistic. I also explore parents' adoptions of new health identities and new communities of care, including explicitly political ones. I argue that a first person perspective provides a vantage point for investigating the ethics of care as something that is created as well as structurally imposed and that may be both familial and intimate as well as public and political.

"It runs in the family": the phenomenology of kinship and obesity

Author: Lone Grøn (KORA - the Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research)  email

Short Abstract

How do things, dispositions or phenomena run in the family? Building on longitudinal fieldwork among Danish families with lifelong and inter-generational experiences with obesity and on Bernhard Waldenfels’ Phenomenology of the Alien I explore kinship and relatedness as contagious connections.

Long Abstract

In a recent book Sahlins defines kinship as "mutuality of being" and describes kin as people who "live each others lives and die each other's deaths" (Sahlins 2013). Also in the new kinship studies kinship has been defined as a "relatedness" that emerges through shared belongings, homes, places, memories, substances, and bodies (Carsten 2004). In this paper I wish to draw on these insights and notions, and open up phenomenological and 'experience-near' explorations of how things, dispositions or phenomena tend to run in the family. Building on fieldwork among Danish families with lifelong and inter-generational experiences with obesity (carried out from 2001-2003 and again in 2014) and on the German philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels' Phenomenology of the Alien I offer a phenomenological reading of kinship, relatedness and mutuality of being as contagious connections.

Symptoms as lived experience and a trope for exploring the social contagion of medical knowledge

Author: Rikke Sand Andersen (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Departing in recent writings on critical phenomenology this paper traces the construction of ‘alarm symptoms of cancer’, and argues that explorations into the configuration of ‘symptom experiences’ may form an analytic trope for the exploration of the contagious potentials of biomedical forms of knowledge.

Long Abstract

The construction of diagnostic categories have for the past twenty years been extensively studied by sociologists and anthropologists; in particular their entanglements with the formation of 'diseased or at risk-subjects' and notions of body and self has been under scrutiny. Inspired by critical phenomenology and recent writings on issues such as amplification, articulation and organization of embodied experience (e.g. Throop, 2010), this paper suggests that the construction of 'symptom categories' as a way to know the body should warrant equal scholarly attention. Empirically, departing in an analysis of cancer diagnostics and the re-conceptualization of cancer as 'an acute disease' in the global north, the paper traces the construction of 'alarm symptoms of cancer', and argues that explorations into the configuration of symptom experiences may form an analytic trope for the exploration of the contagious potentials of biomedical forms of knowledge.

Prevention and control of the NCDs: the case of breast cancer in contemporary Greece

Author: Falia Varelaki (University of the Aegean)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the case of breast cancer, drawing on the ethnographic context in Greece in order to approach the interplay between the systems of control and surveillance, and the ones of resistance and negotiation.

Long Abstract

Cancer, described as the "emperor of all maladies", remains the main disease and cause of death worldwide. Although it is considered a non- communicable disease, many scholars argue that it is communicable in a broader sense, that of the awareness of it being contagious. This paper derives from an ongoing anthropological research drawing on the ethnographic context in Greece. It focuses on the breast cancer case in order to approach the interplay between the systems of control and surveillance, and the ones of resistance and negotiation. The critical analysis of the multidimensional networks - that "govern" the female body, promoting its own health - give prominence to issues related to diagnosis and treatment as well as to the medical practices and technologies, but at the same time it turns the disease management into both the surveillance context through the social control, and the self- surveillance through the self-care practices.

Catching beliefs and fighting cancer with information

Author: Marie Louise Tørring (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Departing in writings on the act of persuasion and the statistical style of reasoning, this paper traces the contagious connections of cancer epidemiology at a local cancer registration service, which strive to fight cancer with information by providing online, near real-time statistics.

Long Abstract

With a stated goal of "Fighting cancer with information" the National Cancer Registration Service (NCRS) in England has recently launched the world's largest cancer database with a background population of 52 million and with thousands of interlinked data records from the clinic and beyond. Armed with this information, the registry strives to provide online, near real-time statistics to patients, clinicians, and politicians alike - thus facilitating benchmarking at a personal, local, national, and international level. This paper departs in ethnographic fieldwork from 2014 among registration officers, liaison mangers, software developers and data analysts at an innovative regional office of the NCRS. The collecting of individual data and spread of statistics by this small institution, invokes several units of analyses at more scales. Inspired by Crombie's historical anthropology of thought and Hacking's proposed styles of (scientific) reasoning, the paper traces the contagious connections within the field of cancer epidemiology by exploring different acts of persuasion at the local cancer registration service. The paper describes how people make cancer information reasonable and persuasive in this domain - and what actions are thought to induce people to believe in cancer epidemiology outside the cancer registration service?

Configuring drug resistance: the case of drug resistant tuberculosis in India

Author: Jens Seeberg (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, and including microbiological, interpersonal and health systems scales of analysis, this presentation describes a configuration of contagious connections that currently facilitates transformation of TB into a multidrug-resistant TB epidemic.

Long Abstract

Tuberculosis (TB) can be classified as a 'social' disease due to its deep links with population density, malnutrition, and patterns of inequity more broadly, and it falls squarely in the category of 'communicable disease'. But how are we to understand the global acceleration of strains of TB that are resistant to standard treatment? This ongoing study follows a group of MDRTB patients in India and attempts to backtrack the opportunities that have arisen from the perspective of the mycobacterium Tuberculosis to develop drug resistance within the body of the patient and for the drug-resistant strain to spread between people as they have moved through various diagnostic and therapeutic options across offered by public and private healthcare providers. The project seeks to move beyond the simplified understanding of drug resistant TB as being caused by 'improper use of antibiotics' due to 'administration of improper treatment regimens and failure to ensure that patients complete the whole course of treatment', as described by the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/tb/challenges/mdr/en/) through detailed ethnographies with patients. The paper outlines the configuration of TB treatment in India that currently favours development of drug resistance.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.