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Medicine and Postmodernity or Medicine in the late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Century (Mathew Thomson)

This seminar will examine whether medicine and healthcare entered a new ‘post-modern’ stage by the late-twentieth century. It will also consider the challenges this presents for the history of medicine. And it will assess the extent to which the emergence and consolidation of the fields of genetics/genomics have changed the way medicine operates today and the way we understand the possibilities for intervening medically into “life”.

Please come to this session ready to discuss the following questions

1. How far-reaching are these recent changes? Do they only apply to rich people in the postindustrial west? How might we consider them in a global context?

2. What challenges do these fields present to the historian of medicine? How is it possible or even desirable to study the history of the very recent past? In this context, is the “postmodern” a useful category?


Everyone should read the first two chapters listed below. Beyond that, have a look round at the internet resources listed below (elsewhere in historyland these might be considered “primary sources”) and come to the session prepared to discuss at least one of them. If, in the course of your surf, you come across sites you would like to talk to instead, then please come with the url so we can all look at them together. 

Nikolas Rose, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century (2007), pp. 9-40.

Jon Turney and Brian Balmer, “The Genetic Body” in Roger Cooter and John Pickstone (eds), Medicine in the Twentieth Century, pp. 399-415.

Roger Cooter, ‘After Death/After-‘Life’: The Social History of Medicine in Post-Postmodernity’, Social History of Medicine, 20 (2007), 441-64.

Alison Bashford’ Where did Eugenics Go?’ (Draft to be circulated)

Wikipedia entries for “personalized medicine”, “stem cells”, “cord blood”