Anthropologies of Science, Society and Biomedicine

Dr. Sahra Gibbon‘s course ANTH7020 Anthropologies of Science, Society and Biomedicine incorporates a blog diary in the module design.  Students write blog posts focusing on various health technologies in the fields of genetics, biotechnology and the life/medical sciences.  Through blogs students are able to experiment with writing style, conduct research into health technologies that interest them, and creatively analyse health technologies by connecting with a wider audience.

We would like to profile two student’s and their blogs for their innovative thinking.

Jessica Edney, The Anthroboratory

My name is Jessica and I’m a second-year undergraduate studying Anthropology. Before I started at UCL, I never really thought about studying anything to do with medicine. But two years in, and medical anthropology is my main area of interest, since it raises so many fascinating questions. Some of the most engaging questions that came up in my Anthropology of Science, Society and Biomedicine course included: can cosmetic surgery ever be reconciled with feminism, who should have the commercial rights to genetic information, and how do reproductive technologies affect understandings of kinship? I enjoyed engaging with these topics on my blog, The Anthroboratory (excuse the terrible pun), where I had the freedom to write about whichever issues, developments or current events interested me – as long as they had some relation to the course. The blog covers cosmetic surgery in Korea, a popular Netflix show about human cloning, and the Human Genome Diversity Project. My experience of researching and writing for the blog has inspired me to write a medical anthropology-related dissertation, which will provisionally be on the topic of childbirth in the UK.

Sophie Lizra-Goldberg, Anthropologies of Science, Society, and Biomedicine

My name is Sophie and I’m a third-year undergraduate. I really enjoyed researching and writing this blog –it provided a great opportunity to further explore anthropological themes of the course in an engaging and interactive way. The guidelines for choosing topics were very flexible, which was great! There was so a lot of scope to find exciting and often pioneering areas of science, technology and biomedicine to research.

I firstly looked at the Obalon Balloon System, which is a novel weight-loss pill that is swallowed and inflates once inside the stomach. Applying the concept of biomedical potentiality, I explored how unfulfilled potential is used as a promotional tool to sell the product. I then explored the rise of predictive genetic testing and reviewed concerns about how the general public interpret genetic information. My third blog looked at OPIS. This is an online IVF calculator which aims to help people understand how realistic their chances of conceiving with IVF is. I was able to easily type in my information and be shot back with a percentage: my chance of having a baby after one complete cycle of IVF. I found myself reformulating my details and seeing what my chances looked like, if I were for example, 3 years younger. The entry consequently focused on how such a starkly numerical representation of conception could have the potential to shape a woman’s identity. Finally, I looked at Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery. Perhaps the aspect of the course I most enjoyed was exploring anthropologically grounded debates about which biomedical technologies should be considered therapeutic and which should be considered enhancement. I explored the tensions between enhancement and therapy in Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery and how this relates to understandings of what the ‘normal’ body is, and how we understand disadvantage.



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