Hijacking Biomedical Technologies in Medical Research

12 February 2013, Paris, France



logo-EHESSThis seminar study is part of a series held at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, which broaches two striking aspects of biomedical technologies: their ubiquity and their profound ambivalence. The intensification of transnational exchanges since WW2 contributed to the diffusion of these technologies on a worldwide scale. They became a medium for a vast array of practices found in medical institutions globally. We aim to explore the processes of this diffusion while emphasizing the role of globalization in biomedical technologies, both as a transformative agent and as a vehicle. We focus on the adjustment of practices and knowledge in relation to these technologies, and especially on their appropriation or even hijacking under particular social and cultural conditions. The proposed study seminar will explore in this light transnational medical research practice in Tibet and Senegal.


Participants and talks

Technologies in Transit: Truth Seeking by way of Tibet
Vincanne Adams, University of California San Francisco

Technologies have a way of being treated as passage points for the production of objective medical truth. How technologies come to hold this status, and whether or not they do, is a matter of debate in several fields, including anthropology, history and social studies of science and technology. The encounters between Western biomedical technologies and Tibetan medical and religious practices offer compelling evidence that this process of truth making is neither straightforward nor predictable. In fact, these encounters suggest a type of ontological misrecognition is required for them to work this way. Using the cases of ultrasound technologies in Lhasa's Tibetan Medical Hospital (Mentsikhang) and fMRI (and other) technologies in American laboratories for Contemplative Sciences Research, this paper explores the uneven and unpredictable pathways that allow technologies to both affirm claims to scientific objectivity while simultaneously posing alternatives to Western versions of truth. It is in the slippery moment of misrecognition that the technologies do their best globalizing work for us.

The social uses of medical research in a Franco-African ruled research area
From scientific rules to strategic care
Ashley Ouvrier, IRD / Université Paris Diderot-Paris 7

Created in 1962 by researchers from the French Institute for Development (former ORSTOM) in order to build a national demographic surveillance system, the franco-african ruled "research area" of Niakhar very soon host medical research (vaccine trial, therapeutic trials as well as epidemiological studies). As a result, people living in the area have been experiencing a long term interaction with experimental projects that are connected to a wider global and transnational history. Within this context, current research practices may be analyzed as " a local micro-culture of research" which is partly based on a set of appropriation (by inhabitants, local staff members as well as researchers) of international scientific and institutional rules. Ethnographic narratives related to the long lasting social uses of logistic vehicles for local emergencies and to the popularity of clinical trial's ability to build health care facility will help us understand how experimental logics can be diverted into developmental ones. The communication will take into account the globalization of clinical trials through the notion of "strategic care".



Claire Beaudevin and Laurent Pordié (Cermes3, Paris)


Funding bodies

Jointly funded by the Cermes3 (CNRS/EHESS/Inserm) and the Institute for Research and Innovation in Society (Ifris) in Paris.

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