Brown bag seminar: Identifying the cancerous subject: Reflections on contemporary transitions in cancer diagnostics and implications of ‘being early’

By Rikke Sand Andersen.

01.05.2018 | Jon Bendixen

Dato ons 23 maj
Tid 11:00 12:00
Sted Auditorium 1 (4206-117), Moesgaard Campus

For the past decade I have (together with Marie Louise Tørring) been affiliated with The Danish Center for Cancer Diagnosis in Primary Care (CaP). CaP is a multidisciplinary research center at Health, AU, which was funded by The Danish Cancer Society and the Novo Nordic Foundation in 2011 with one objective: to provide an academic agenda supporting a rearrangement of cancer diagnostics in Denmark (and the global north).

In this brown bag seminar, I will share with you some of my experiences from working at CaP, and give a short paper, tracing how contemporary focus on ‘early diagnosis’ add to ongoing transitions in how we think of health and illness. The paper (which is work in progress) suggests that contemporary forms of cancer disease control renders a shift in biomedical attention; a shift from prevention to prediction, as well as a shift from identifying the cancerous body to a focus on identifying the cancerous subject. The coming together of big data, biotechnology, and the pooling of vast resources feed into diagnostic imaginaries where biographical details, behaviors and sensorial experiences are transformed into potential data points. This shift, the paper suggests, represents a vast expansion in what are considered medical (or illness) signs, as well as new ways of rendering these signs actionable (e.g. algorithms, cancer risk prediction). Lastly, I will reflect on the implications of these transitions. Inspired by Lochlann Jain’s semi-autobiographic writings on ‘how cancer becomes us’, I suggest that a focus on ‘early diagnosis’ crafts social, moral, and sensorial spaces of dissonance, readdressing a well known anthropological argument: What the biomedical sciences tell us about the world, does not help us to know what to do in the world. There is an increasing dissonance, between the medical signs produced within the institutional particulars of the political and ethical structures that inform early diagnosis researchers/health promoters, and everyday forms of bodily knowledge and experience that directs individual health practices. Unpacking these dissonances offers insights into how notions of early diagnosis (made to seem like an entitlement) also define requirements of what it means to be ‘a responsible citizen/or patient’; and the challenges or difficulties that such requirements entail.

Marie Louise and I have been colleagues at CaP and are planning to write a book on the subject. Ideas for publication, ways to go forward etc. are welcome as part of our discussions.