Conference 2017

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This interdisciplinary, international conference featured scholars from Belgium, Canada, Germany, Singapore, the UK, and the USA. The conference explored intersections between health and media, including how health news shapes conceptions of the body, life, death, race, health, disease, and health care and ideas about what constitutes knowledge about health, who has it, who needs it, and what sorts of rights and obligations it engenders. 

Location: Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

The video of the conference is available here.

Please use #circulatinghealth to spread the word on social media!


(please scroll down to see the paper titles and abstracts)

Thursday, February 9 

1:30- 2:00: Introduction

Charles L. Briggs, Anthropology, UC Berkeley
Daniel C. Hallin, Communication, UC San Diego

2:00-3:30: Mediatization vis-à-vis Biomedicalization

Nick Couldry, Media, Communications and Social Theory, London School of Economics and Political Science
Adele Clarke, Sociology and History of Health Sciences, UC San Francisco

3:30-4:00: Break

4:00-5:30: Health News and Health Communication: Shaking Up Dominant Practices

Sheldon Ungar, Sociology, University of Toronto
Mohan Dutta, Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore 

Friday, February 10

9-10:30: Media, Language, and Health Inequalities: Critical Anthropological Perspectives

Rose Marie Beck, African Studies, Leipzig  
Leo Chávez, Anthropology, UC Irvine

10:30-11:00: Break

11:00-1:00: How Can Health Journalism Inform Media Studies and Linguistic Perspectives on the News?

Michael Schudson, Journalism, Columbia
Julia Sonnevend, Communication Studies, University of Michigan
Geert Jacobs, Linguistics, University of Ghent

1:00-2:00: Lunch for all attendees

2:00-4:00: From Research to Practice: New Collaborations, New Ways of Mediatizing Health?

Moderators: Charles L. Briggs and Daniel C. Hallin

Richard Besser, ABC News
Lori Dorfman, UCB School of Public Health and the Berkeley Media Studies Group
Mohan Dutta, Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore
Edward Wasserman, Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley

4:00-4:30         Reception            

Sponsored by: Berkeley Center for Social Medicine and Institute of International Studies

Co-sponsored by: Department of AnthropologyGraduate School of JournalismTownsend Center for the Humanities, and School of Public HealthBerkeley Media Studies Group of the Public Health Institute, and the Folklore Graduate Program

The room is wheelchair accessible; please enter from the South Drive entrance (the Campanile side).

For other accessibility requests, please call or email at least one day prior to the event. 510 642-0813

Paper Titles and Abstracts

Bedazzlements of Technology and the Emergence of a Dystopic Post-enlightenment Subject in Ebola
Rose Marie Beck (University of Leipzig)

In the most recent and so far largest outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa (2014 to 2015), media reports, international global health and humanitarian interven­tion located the disease within securitization discourses and prac­tices. Medical staff in the Personal Protective Equipment that dominates the visual landscape have come to epitomize Ebola even long before the recent pandemic. In my contribution I want to argue that securitization can be seen to yield a particularly insightful inroad to imaginaries of a dystopic post-enlightenment subject that cogently rests on the entanglement of African and European experience and politics. Drawing on recent debates in critical humanitarianism, I look at Ebola, and in particular the international response which brings along a biomedi­cal model of epidemiological intervention, in showing how the Lumpenbody of pa­tients and the technologized body of medical workers are co-constitutive of a body-in-Ebola. The paper draws on notions that, at least since Enlightenment, have cen­trally defined the human being as possessing language and through it citizenship. In this view, the body-in-Ebola presents us with a dystopic vision of a contemporary world order in which the dazzle of the promises of technology and securitiza­tion disguises the emergence of a voiceless post-Enlightenment subject. 

Disease-Scapes: Circulation of Visual and Discursive Images Framing Immigrants as a Medical Threat to the Body of the Nation
Leo R. Chavez (University of California, Irvine)

This paper begins with the metaphors of the nation as a body and immigrants as diseases weakening and even killing that body of the nation.  It examines how the circulation of images of disease attached to immigrant bodies, even in abstract forms, constructs meaning about immigrants as threats to the nation. Circulation itself is related to an economy of meaning, with images acquiring use value as they circulate. Their use value reinforces what Alan M. Kraut called “medicalized nativism.” The images gain power through their circulation and variations on the theme of what I call disease-scapes, built up of signs representing germs, plagues, parasites, blood suckers, obesity/diabetes, and various diseases that are bundled with material and corporal forms represented by (im)migrants, in a way similar to Shankar’s “qualisigns.” A key use value of disease-scapes that construct (im)migrants as a threat to the body of the nation is that they justify policing, surveillance, and laws governing the conduct of (im)migrants for the security of the body/nation. They also underscore categories of good citizens and bad citizens within the body of the nation.

From (Regular) Medicine to Medicalization to Biomedicalization to Biomediatization: Some Reflections
Adele E. Clarke (UCSF)

This presentation traces the emergence of biomedicalization from threads of my earlier work: 1) medicalization of women’s health; 2) history of the American reproductive sciences in biology, medicine and agriculture; 3) economization of the life sciences in the early twentieth century and its consequence of “undone science”; and 4) analyzing the shift in approaches to the medical management of reproductive processes from modernity to postmodernity--from control over reproductive processes/bodies via universal technologies to transformation of them via tailored technological alterations and services--one instantiation of the shift from medicalization to biomedicalization. It ends by demonstrating how the American Medical Association used the media to advertise and legitimate the rise of (regular) medicine, medicalization, and biomedicalization. The backdrop consists in my prolonged struggles with American medical sociology about taking (bio)medical sciences and technologies seriously and my own learning about “situated theorizing”--seeking more generic processes while remaining grounded in the empirical.

Datafication as the Latest Phase of Mediatization: Some Consequences for the Health Sector and Wider Social Order
Nick Couldry (London School of Economics and Political Science)

This paper will draw on the author’s recently published book The Mediated Construction of Reality (Polity, co-authored with Andreas Hepp), to place the latest phase of mediatization – datafication – within the longer history of mediatization, and media’s role in the unfolding of modernity. The paper will argue that datafication poses special new challenges for the stability and legitimacy of social order. These are being played out across all social sectors, but with particular force in the health sector, where major advances of big data (both mechanisms for data collection and for data analysis) are tied to large-scale goals, such as the curing of disease. Within the era of datafication, mediatization becomes closely linked with specific pressures towards biomedicalization, but with implications for human autonomy and freedom far beyond the medical sector: on the latter the author will also draw on his project The Price of Connection funded by University of Chicago and the John Templeton Foundation.

Communicative Inequalities and Health: Power, Meaning, and Experience
Mohan J. Dutta, (National University of Singapore)

In this talk, I will outline the relationship between communicative inequalities and health inequalities, depicting the ways in which communicative inequalities constitute an array of health outcomes. In doing so, I will invert the concept of communicative inequalities circulated in the mainstream literature, articulating the ways in which dominant theorizations of communication inequalities reproduce the neoliberal status quo. Conceptualizing inequalities in the realm of voice, meaning, and experience, the talk will attend to the premises of a culturally centered approach to health communication that seeks to build dialogic spaces in partnership with communities at the margins. How then can infrastructures of listening be built from the margins that disrupt the neoliberal expert-driven formations of power in health communication? The concept of solidarity is offered as an entry point for theorizing the communication of health from the margins that “render impure” the dominant ontologies of the mainstream and decolonize the production of health meanings from global structures of power.

Fixing Health, Unfixing Meaning: A Linguistic Ethnographic Perspective on Biomediatization
Geert Jacobs (Ghent University, Belgium)

Drawing on a transdisciplinary research project aimed at deconstructing the genesis, dissemination and uptake of elderly-related health news in a Western European country, this paper zooms in on how a linguistic ethnographic perspective can shed new light on the complex entanglements of professional practices in biomedical science, PR and popular media that Briggs and Hallin (2016) have come to call ‘biomediatization’. In particular, we zoom in on our work with the press officer at a multinational pharmaceutical company providing health care services in the fields of heart disease, HIV, Alzheimer’s and cancer, as well as with the editorial team of a nation-wide TV show on food and nutrition. Tying in with notions of co-constructed text and interpenetrating epistemologies, we demonstrate that none of the actors involved talk or write  “without mobilizing a multitude of voices”, both close and far away, and that “[h]owever fixed, hegemonic, pure a discourse may appear, (…) there is no meaning without gaps and fissures” (Angermüller 2012: 118).

News Genres and Complexity in Making Health Public
Michael Schudson (Columbia)

Making Health Public (Briggs and Hallin 2016) brings to media studies a wealth of original research findings and a novel conceptual apparatus for making good use of them. A general message of the book is that media coverage of health is more complex than you thought. This presentation comments on two features of complexity, one explored in detail in the book -- the distinctive features of health news as one genre of multiple genres of news and another the book touches on only incidentally -- the complexity of communication within organized mainstream medicine itself as it adapts to changing public norms of transparency and patient empowerment.

Transmission Obsession: The Case of the Study of Health News
Julia Sonnevend (University of Michigan)

As Briggs and Hallin powerfully show in Making Health Public, the study of health news is curiously confined to health communication research and does not shape mainstream media studies debates. While much of media studies has accepted the role of journalists as members of interpretive communities (Zelizer, 1993) whose task is the construction and performance of meaning (Carey, 1992), there are still areas of social life where “transmission” is the dominant frame through which we analyze practices of mediation. Perhaps due to an extreme respect towards the medical profession, a ritual understanding of knowledge-making seems hard to accept in this area. The study of health news thus shows us that the transmission view of communication is far from being obsolete in communication studies and has strongly prevailed in certain subfields. However, it may be the case that subfields with a strong transmission view are prone to remain isolated subfields exactly because of their different, less ritual, framing of how communication works.

Crowd Resistance to Health Claims:  Case Studies of Online Incivility
Sheldon Ungar (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Health authorities, professionals, researchers and journalists now have to contend with a new player:  an amorphous crowd of social media users who are not bound by the norms of “reasonable” discourse and use these forums as, essentially, “rantospheres”.  This paper examines the nature and consequences of three online public health controversies.  The first has to do with reactions to a study suggesting that second hand smoke is not as dangerous as commonly claimed.  The second focuses on the crowd-review of the “hockey stick” paper describing threatening global temperature changes.  The final case examines online resistance to claims made about the H1N1 virus and the vaccine developed for it.   These case studies reveal extreme incivility and polarization that has expanded and coarsened the sphere of (ostensibly) legitimate discourse.  Significantly, online commentary tends to migrate to more conventional media where it can impact the public understanding of issues as well as the reputation of those working in the health field.

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