Call for Papers: Beyond Boundaries: Interstices in Medical Anthropology

15th Anniversary Conference of the Work Group Medical Anthropology of the German Anthropological Association e.V.

University of Vienna, 29 November - 1 December 2012

The present conference – in the interstice between the 10th and 20th year of the Work Group Medical
Anthropology – aims at studying in-between spaces within and beyond medical domains and phenomena. Medical Anthropology, more often than not, has focused on categorizations and boundaries within medicine and health, and sometimes on intersections, but has devoted far less attention on interstices – whether in relation to knowledge regimes, social groupings, healing practices/techniques or networks of objects.
Moving beyond binary reasoning and bounded objects, we invite discussions about what happens and who/what lives in the cracks, interstices and gaps in the structure of medical traditions. To this end, we encourage papers that explore subject matters that fall between, rather than within, familiar boundaries, such as the medical body’s appropriation in politics of (national) identity, or the fabrication of new life forms through the development and clinical implementation of new biomedical technologies. We suggest
approaching interstices not as empty gaps between regions full of structure, activity and meaning, but rather as clearings that may generate new knowledge, practices as well as discourses.
The conference welcomes proposals for papers that address, but are not necessarily limited to, aspects of interstitial spaces in Medical Anthropology, including:
- Interstices between different currents of thought (e.g. conceptual and activity-related interstices used for legitimation and truth claims of medicines; medical traditions and their in-between spaces;
interstices within and between both defining and changing diagnostic notions in psychiatry; interstitial space of academic borderlands)
- Globalization and in-between space/Third Space/trans-x space/interstitial space (e.g. interstices between the local, the regional, the national and the global)
- Contact zones/middle grounds in medico-technical research and clinical practice (e.g. strategies and tactics for appropriating interstices between domains)
- Interstices in the production of medicine, body and nation
- Bodies at the interstices of medicine, culture, religion, politics, law, art etc.
- The emergence of new social forms within interstitial spaces (including rites of passage and initiation)
- Moral interstices in medical ethics and policy making
- The use of interstices for the reflection on methodological procedures and field experiences

We welcome innovative, exciting, and unexpected takes on the above themes. Papers contributing to one of the panels outlined below are especially welcome. All interested in contributing to this conference are invited to send a proposal (300 words maximum) including a brief description of the project, keywords, contact data and short biographical information via e-mail to Bernhard Hadolt ( and Thamar Klein (
•Submissions due: 15 July 2012
•Notification: 1 August 2012

On behalf of the Work Group Medical Anthropology, Bernhard Hadolt and Thamar Klein.

The interstitial body: mapping the space between medicine and the nation
Panel convener: Stephan Kloos, Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Since Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ and Margaret Lock’s seminal article on “the mindful body,” medical anthropology has devoted much energy to exploring the ways in which (medical) notions of the body are the product of specific social, cultural and political contexts. Much less attention has been paid meanwhile to the converse phenomenon: nationalist rhetorics and politics around the world regard the nation in terms of a “body” whose health, integrity and boundaries need to be protected and defended.
Thus, even as it is socially, culturally and politically constituted and imagined, the body often functions as a nationalist trope, and medical knowledge about it as a political discourse or even logic. It can therefore be said to occupy an interstitial space between medicine, culture, society, and politics.
This panel aims to rethink the body from the perspective of contemporary anthropological and postcolonial research, focusing especially on its function of mediating the different dimensions of human experience. In particular, the panel asks how different notions of the body – biomedical, non-biomedical,
or hybrid – may inform contemporary social and political theory and practice. Hoping to provide a fresh look at the interstices between medical knowledge, nationalist politics, and social theory worldwide, this panel invites innovative papers exploring the political role of the body and its imaginaries in various national contexts.
“Trust” Versus “Efficacy”? Legitimizing Medicine(s) in Spaces of Contestation
Panel conveners: Britta Rutert, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin and Valérie Liebs, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Georg August University Göttingen Medical traditions are an important resource for people to rely on when requesting medical treatment. In order to be able to evaluate and ensure that knowledge and skills meet medical needs and expectations, certain criteria of legitimation are set in each tradition. Due to the increasing flow of ideas, practices,
persons and objects, these criteria are today being continually contested as they are confronted with diverging medical contexts. The contestation unfolds spaces in which therapeutic meaning is newly defined – shaped by power relations as well as political and economic interests.
In this panel, we intend to scrutinize these ideas by discussing concepts of “trust” and “efficacy” with regard to legitimation and contestation of medical knowledge, practices, and objects. Two areas of particular interest for us in that context are 1) urbanized areas and 2) global markets.
First, urbanized areas offer an exciting setting within which to analyze these negotiations, as they are often marked by social insecurity and contradictory medical ideas and practices, creating a space of friction and juxtapositions. How do medical specialists legitimate their skills and products in this field?
How do patients ensure that they will receive the medical efficiency they request?
Second, the global market of medicinal products is a space where biomedical research imposes a hegemonic claim on criteria defining the value of medicinal products (and services), thus affecting their acceptance and economic success. How are power relations negotiated in this realm, particularly regarding “trust” and “efficacy”?

Interstices in defining and shifting diagnostic notions in psychiatry and beyond
Panel convener: Claudia Lang, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Many medical anthropologists and transcultural psychiatrists have questioned the assumption of presumed-universal diagnostic notions of the ICD-10 or DSM-IV, such as those defining depression or schizophrenia, being appropriate to non-Western local worlds. However, in most countries, the boundaries between different kinds of mental health knowledge and practices, as well as between different explanatory models of affliction and sickness, are not as clear-cut. Biopsychiatry has become part of the local reality, where it coexists with a host of other institutionalized and non-institutionalized
practices for healing mental illness. Many practitioners of ‘traditional’ or ‘complementary and alternative’ medicine on the one hand, and of religious and cosmological healing on the other, engage biopsychiatric diagnostic notions and then translate them into their own frameworks. These processes lead to hybrid ways of conceptualizing mental distress in local medical realities. Moreover, both patients and caretakers, when relating to the patients’ suffering, increasingly use popular psychiatric categories, often in tandem with other representations of their distress, such as those of possession or sorcery. In
addition, psychiatrists in different localities also adapt international diagnostic notions to local realities, incorporating local notions of mental health and illness.
Moving beyond binary reasoning, this panel seeks to explore the role of these interstices in defining and shifting diagnostic notions of mental disorders in psychiatry and other medical, religious and cosmological forms of knowledge and practice. How are biopsychiatric diagnostic notions engaged by practitioners of ‘traditional medicine’? How, in turn, do psychiatrists engage local terms of mental health and distress? How do patients and caretakers merge distinct notions of distress, emphasizing different
facets depending on the kind of help they seek? How are power relations and agency displayed in these processes? We invite contributors to share their findings on the transcending of binary reasoning and conceptual boundaries in the field of psychiatric anthropology.

The spaces between: subjectivity and emotions in the field
Panel conveners: Susann Huschke, Dominik Mattes, both Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Freie Universität Berlin
(Medical) Anthropological enquiries into the worlds of physical and social suffering often entail intense emotional upheavals for the ethnographers themselves. Heartfelt anxiety, anger, frustration, doubt, depletion, sadness, and grief not only deeply influence interactions and observations in the field, but also significantly shape the processes of analysis and ethnographic writing. Although the importance of including researchers’ subjectivities more systematically in ethnographic analyses has increasingly been
acknowledged over the last decades, transparent examination of researchers’ own emotional involvements remains a somewhat marginal phenomenon in ethnographic texts. In this panel, we adopt a stance of ‘radical empiricism’ “as a methodological position concerned with the spaces between – between things in relationship, on the one hand, and between each separate use of a self-contained method, on the other” (Davies 2011: 23). We invite contributions that reflect on ethnographers’ ‘deep encounters’ (Agic 2011) in the field, as well as during analysis and writing, and which evolve from the
following exemplary questions: How are (positive and negative) emotions experienced and navigated in the field? What are the consequences of being a compassionate human being in the context of anthropological research into illness and suffering? How does systematic analysis of the researcher’s subjectivity enhance the production of anthropological knowledge or even engender entirely new forms of knowledge? To what extent do emotions serve as instigators for political action?




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