Cultural crossings of care: An appeal to the medical humanities

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Abstract

Modern medicine is confronted with cultural crossings in various forms. In facing these challenges, it is not enough to simply increase our insight into the cultural dimensions of health and well-being. We must, more radically, question the conventional distinction between the ‘objectivity of science’ and the ‘subjectivity of culture’. This obligation creates an urgent call for the medical humanities but also for a fundamental rethinking of their grounding assumptions.

Julia Kristeva (JK) has problematised the biomedical concept of health through her reading of the anthropogony of Cura (Care), who according to the Roman myth created man out of a piece of clay. JK uses this fable as an allegory for the cultural distinction between health construed as a ‘definitive state’, which belongs to biological life (bios), and healing as a durative ‘process with twists and turns in time’ that characterises human living (zoe). A consequence of this demarcation is that biomedicine is in constant need of ‘repairing’ and bridging the gap between bios and zoe, nature and culture. Even in radical versions, the medical humanities are mostly reduced to such an instrument of repairment, seeing them as what we refer to as a soft, ‘subjective’ and cultural supplement to a stable body of ‘objective’, biomedical and scientific knowledge. In this article, we present a prolegomenon to a more radical programme for the medical humanities, which calls the conventional distinctions between the humanities and the natural sciences into question, acknowledges the pathological and healing powers of culture, and sees the body as a complex biocultural fact. A key element in such a project is the rethinking of the concept of ‘evidence’ in healthcare.

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