Bryn Mawr College
Judith Houck (Assistant Professor @ University of Wisconsin-Madison, in Medical History, Women's Studies, History of Science, Center of Women's Health and Women's Health Research)
"Menopause: The Social History of a Biological Process, or
Why Scientists Should Care About History"
Why should scientists care about the history of menopause, of medicine, of science? Because history gives us a larger perspective on our smaller, more focused lines of inquiry; because it teaches us that bodily experience is not dependent on the body alone (so that good medical practice needs to involve understanding the patient as a person outside the examination room); because as our biological understanding increases it's important for scientists to realize that that perspective is always a partial one; because important differences between medical theory and medical practices need to be acknowledged; and finally, because scientists need to be reminded of what happens to science when it leaves the laboratory: social uses are made of scientific theory, which scientists themselves cannot control:
In the short discussion time remaining, we distinguished between scientific, medical, and social-economic forces (the treatment of menopause has been fueled by the need of the pharmaceutical industry to make money and is very much a class-bound story, focused on the concerns of middle- and upper-class women; it has not found its way into public health clinics). We also problematized the distinction between "natural" and "constructed" processes (through time, "different things are constructed as natural"); acknowledged that there is "no finite truth about the body," that there are repeated judgment calls on "what is biological," what socially constructed; about our understandings of the body. "What is treatable" determines what is "natural": the natural is itself "artifactual" and deeply politicized.
The final Brown Bag discussion of this semester will be held next Wednesday, December 11th, when Paul Grobstein will initiate a conversation about "Philosophies of Science: A View from the Brain."
Over the course of the semester, we have been discussing
understanding in terms of a number of binaries: as "commodity" or
"shared culture," as subjective or objective, embodied or
transcendent, metonymic or metaphoric, individual or social,
internally constructed or reflecting the external world. We have also
been exploring the possibility that many interesting phenomenon occur
without a blueprint or a planner, emerging as the consequence of
relatively simple things interacting in relatively simple ways. Paul
will suggest that the brain is an organized ant colony and that the
binaries we've identified reflect fundamental principles of that
organization. He will further suggest that the appearance of
conflicts between binaries results from our attending to one or the
other of the two parts of the brain, and that the apparent conflicts
dissolve when one appreciates the play that goes on between them.
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