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Accepted Contribution:

Atlasing cancer: oncological world-making in the twentieth century  
Jennifer Fraser (King's College London)

Short abstract:

To show how past and present means of ‘building cancer worlds’ are based on negotiated understandings of facts and forms this presentation traces the historical evolution of global cancer atlases from the early twentieth century to the present day.

Long abstract:

In 2019, the International Union Against Cancer, in partnership with the American Cancer Society and International Agency for Research on Cancer, launched “The Cancer Atlas”—a visual and comprehensive overview of cancer worldwide. Aimed at a broad readership, the Atlas serves as an authoritative set of knowledge about the global cancer burden. By providing a global compendium of disease, it provides governments, public health agencies, policymakers, patients, and the general public with a reliable base for evidence-based decision making. When the Atlas was launched it was heralded as a powerful new policy, and public education tool. Indeed, many experts believed that presenting cancer data in an easy-to-consume, interactive fashion would democratize cancer data, cultivate partnerships, and inspire collective against the disease worldwide. Despite its accessible nature and user-friendly format, the image of the world that the Cancer Atlas projects is not as simple and straightforward as the compendium’s communications team would have us believe. Cancer atlases rely on a vast research infrastructure, a web of national and international relations, hours of labour, and dizzying array of theoretical and methodological considerations and collective imaginings about what the global cancer burden is and how it should be represented. To show how past and present means of ‘building cancer worlds’ (Masco, 2021) are based on “negotiated understandings of facts and forms,” often for the purpose of creating “collective thought-styles to promote consensual ways of seeing,” (Fleck, 1981) this presentation traces the historical evolution of global cancer atlases from the early twentieth century to the present day. By tracing these compendiums through their many iterations and origins, from medical geography and geographic pathology in the 1930s and 1950s, to global geocancerology and cancer epidemiology in the 1980s and 2000s, I show how efforts to view cancer from “outside and above” (Struck, 2014) are rooted in their own spatial and temporal configurations, and that while these resources often project authoritative images of scientific objectivity, the cancer stories they tell are actually highly curated collections of valued and validated knowledge.

References:

Fleck, Ludwik. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 161.

Masco, Joseph. The Future of Fallout, and Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.

Struck, Wolfgang. “Genesis, Retold: In Search of an Atlas of the Anthropocene.” Environmental Humanities 5 (2014): 217-232.

Combined Format Open Panel P133
Transforming the study of cancer
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 July, 2024, -