[P4954] From the Body to the Body-Politic: The Politics of Medical Knowledge and Practice

Created by Joelle Abi-Rached
Monday, 11/20/17 8:00am


This panel explores the ways in which medicine and science have been used, invoked, and expanded for diverse national and imperial interests. We propose to explore the complex relation between power, expertise, and knowledge while taking into account the impact of the discourse on modernity; a cornerstone of many analytical frameworks used to examine medicine and science as a lens into major sociopolitical developments. Although we explore knowledge production as a function of expertise, we also deconstruct the "political" and decenter the state (in its colonial and postcolonial iterations) looking at a broad range of actors; medical doctors, scientists, theologians, missionaries, bureaucrats, and engaged citizens.

The first paper looks at how colonial imaginaries interacted with local discourses on medical knowledge and practice. By looking at the reanimation of prophetic medicine in the context of nineteenth-century Egypt, it investigates how colonial views on Islam, medicine, and colonized subjects influenced medical education and public health policy. The second paper examines the birth of psychiatry in the Mashreq and situates its disciplinization in a continuous power struggle over influence and interests between diverse local and global actors (imperial, clerical as well as secular). The third paper considers the social and infrastructural contexts leading to the discovery of a specific inherited condition in certain Middle Eastern populations during the 1950s and 60s. Focusing on Iran and Israel, it analyzes how an international community of medical researchers absorbed concepts of identity and heredity produced by local nationalist politics. Finally, the fourth paper focuses on medical expertise at the level of the forensic and psychiatric in a period of political upheaval. Focusing on Egypt during the 2011 Arab uprisings, the paper examines the role of the doctor as a witness and a documenter of state violence within a contested territory of struggle between medical and state authority.

Taken as a whole this panel engages the knowledge/power dynamic. It aims to expand and explore the various layers of the politicization of medical knowledge at both the micro and macro dimensions complicating the frameworks that have been used so far to examine the instrumentalization, role, and impact of medical knowledge and practice. It also hopes to open the discussion for a critical reassessment of postcolonial frameworks that have too often amplified the West's role in shaping local discourses at the expense of local influences.






Sherine Hamdy

(University of California Irvine)
Sherine Hamdy began as Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Irvine in the Fall 2017. Before that, she was at Brown University, where she worked and taught since 2006. She received her Ph.D. in 2006 from New York University...
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Discussant;

Ahmed Ragab

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Elise Burton

(University of Cambridge)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Joelle Abi-Rached

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Soha Bayoumi

(Harvard University)
I'm a lecturer in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Trained in political theory and philosophy and intellectual history, I work on the question of justice at the intersection of political philosophy, intellectual history...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;