Conference Agenda

RN24_08: Health, bio-medicine & social context
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
6:00pm - 7:30pm

Session Chair: Aaro Tupasela, University of Helsinki
Location: UP.3.213
University of Manchester Building: University Place, Third Floor Oxford Road


“The Window of Opportunity is Closing” - Chronic Urgency in the Promotion of Biomedicine

Heta Tarkkala, Karoliina Snell

University of Helsinki, Finland

Metaphors are an inseparable part of science communication informing lay people of significance of scientific research or findings. They are also utilized in promotion of science, for example in promotion of biomedical research and biobanking. In our presentation, we pay attention to the metaphor of “window of opportunity” that is closing fast, which is used in constructing expectations around biomedicine. Various stakeholders such as biobank managers and pharma companies participate in defining science and innovation policy, and promote their cause by using such expressions. Our analysis builds on sociology of expectations and sociology of metaphors. We highlight the alerting nature of the metaphor that is tied to both negative and positive expectations, and address the fast pace and urgency that follows from the closing of the window, suggesting that certain actions need to be instantly taken. Based on publicly available materials such as strategies, public presentations and pr-materials from Finland, we discuss the pressing need for the allocation of funding, changes in organizational structure and legislation that come with the urgency. The metaphor of closing window of opportunity for Finnish genomics has been used since early 2000s, which seems to turn the urgency into a chronic condition. We put this constant urgency in context through analysing the case of Finnish genomics and biomedical R&D, and highlighting the role of science advocates in the creation of policy.

The Perfectibility of the Self: on the Promises of Digital Health Technologies

Bernhard Wieser

TU Graz, Austria

The quantified self has received scholarly attention for quite some time. From an STS point of view the various ways in which digital technologies translate the human body into numbers is of particular interest. Technologies are used to relate to one’s own body, to perceive it, objectify it and ultimately to act upon it in order to transform it. Sensors and tracking technologies have become omnipresent companions of modern life, whether they come in special devices or as integrated functions of smartphones. We produce data everywhere we go, practically at all times. These data are valued as a resource and many are keen to capitalize on them. It is a central part of the quantification promise that these data hold the key to self-optimization.

I discuss these technologies of the self against the backdrop of much older ideas of self-perfection. This allows me to draw out the unique type of contemporary self-optimization practices in a larger context of historical discourses on what it means to live a good life. In my paper, I will draw on Foucault and complement my analysis with references to Passmore’s work on self-perfection. This contribution is inspired by the author’s research on ethical, legal and social aspects of digital health technologies (funded by Zukunftsfond Steiermark, PN 8008).

The Impact Of Implantable Smart Heart Devices On The Daily Life Of Their Carriers: Regaining A Sense Of Control Through The Formation Of A Technoscientific Illness Identity

Jetske Charlotte Erisman, Kevin De Sabbata

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands, The

Implantable smart heart devices (ISHDs) such as pacemakers, Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators and Cardiac Resynchronization Therapies are technologies used to support or correct the heart rhythm. Although information materials present them as having a low impact on the lives of their carriers and enabling an improved quality of life, studies and practice show that the intimate relationship between these technologies and those who carry them is much more complex. The agency and unpredictability of the devices are resulting in a sense of loss of control, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Yet, there is a lack of knowledge on how the relationship between the person and the device concretely plays out. The present study aims to fill this gap by studying how ISHDs influence the daily life, social relationships and identities of the people who carry them. The research consists of ten in-depth interviews exploring the experience of Dutch ISHD carriers with their devices. Starting from cyborg theory and biomedicalization, it conceptualises such experiences in terms of interactions between bodies, machines and surroundings. From this perspective, ISHDs appear devices which, far from being neutral, impact the life of carriers at multiple levels, changing their relationship with their family, environment, society and themselves. It shows how carrying an ISHD prompts these individuals to construct a technoscientific illness identity, through which they make sense of their experience and regain a sense of control.

Towards a Sociology of Transfusion: European Politics of Blood Beyond Procurement

Nathan Wittock, Piet Bracke, Lesley Hustinx

Department of Sociology, Ghent University, Belgium

Human blood for transfusion constitutes a vital resource in European medical practice, with many Europeans needing a transfusion over the course of their lives. Previous scholarship in Political Sociology, Science and Technology Studies, and the Sociology of Health and Illness has shown that institutional politics of blood inform multiple, sometimes competing, logics of action that structure the interrelation of donors, recipients, blood establishments and actors from proximate fields (e.g. state, EU, WHO, the media). These logics shape actors’ behavior with and toward blood. However, there is a dearth of scholarship beyond the interrelation of donors and procurement agencies. Largely ignoring blood distribution and transfusion processes in the health care setting, transfusion-recipients are characterized as a unitary, passive actor, which limits sociological understanding of diverse patient-pathways and transfusion needs.

Part of a project developing a sociology of transfusion, this paper maps the institutional logics and logics of action structuring blood distribution and transfusion practices in Belgium. Through abductive analysis of transfusion guidelines and policy of the national ministry of health, the high council for health, the government institute for healthcare benefits, the federal agency for drugs and health products, and the European Blood Directives, we study how politics of blood relevant to the health care setting inform dominant logics of action. The latter technocratic, European standards on blood storage, transport, quality control, traceability and notification of serious adverse reactions are used as a starting point to scrutinize guidelines on how to engage with patients, how to negotiate transfusion and communicate risks, and expected recipient-behavior.