Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Ethics
Practices of Substitution: Representing the Person in Health Care and Medical Research
Mette N. Svendsen (University of Copenhagen), Anja M.B. Jensen (University of Copenhagen), and Janelle S. Taylor (University of Washington).
In medical research, and in care for humans at the edge of life, somebody or some things often replace “the person”—or part of the person. These forms of standing in may be conceptualized as practices of substitution in which personhood is represented, re-imagined, extended, copied or in other ways facilitated. Practices of substitution involve the making and circulation of representations that do not merely reflect or depict the world -- they can also have important material, social, legal, scientific, and other consequences in it.
When caregivers compensate for the sensory incapabilities of their patients or relatives, how do they facilitate personhood and agency? With proliferation of data in health care, in what ways do numbers, visual images, and medical diagnoses extend and/or authenticate the personhood of embodied subjects? When animals become near-humans in biomedical experimental practices, how is substitution practiced? What is the role of fiction, money, scientific evidence, damaged bodies, and gender in styles of substitution? What are the tensions, ambiguities, and power relations of substitution? And how may ethnography, itself, act as a practice of substitution? This panel treats substitution as a comparative tool to excavate the practical and ethical work through which beings are held in personhood or drawn into dimensions of personhood.
In Hubert and Mauss’ classic anthropological studies of sacrifice, substitution equals symbolic closeness to the original. In Levinas’ philosophy, to substitute for the other is integral to becoming a subject. In between these very different takes on substitution we wish to explore substitution practices and their limits in perinatal care, mental health courts, global health initiatives, military waste disposal, dialysis treatment, laboratory work with animals modeling patients, and also in the practices of anthropologists documenting and engaging in these practices.