Alexis Shotwell, "Calls to Battle: Diagnosis, Cure, and Activism," a CNY Mellon Corridor HEALTH HUMANITIES Event
Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Cross-appointed with the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies and the Department of Philosophy at Carleton University, Ottawa
Calls to battle: Diagnosis, cure, and activism
Disease, illness, usually involve both diagnosis and an impulse towards cure. How we know illness is intertwined with what that illness is. Social and personal experience in turn shape the meaning and experience of being sick. The politics of disease may be especially evident when diagnoses are in formation, when an illness is unstable or shifting, and when our methods for knowing illness don’t, or don’t yet, help people experiencing disease. And things become more complex when bodily experiences lived by many disabled people, which are not inherently actually sickness, are medicalized. Ludwig Fleck wrote: “The social character inherent in the very nature of scientific activity is not without its substantive consequences. Words which formerly were simple terms become slogans; sentences which one were simple statements become calls to battle.”
In this paper, I look to the history of AIDS activism for accounts of how people made simple statements into calls for battle at the early points of diagnostic formation. Moving between the accounts of doctors treating AIDS and HIV and activists fighting for the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS in the early years, I consider how disability analysis can help us think about diagnoses-in-formation, activism, and the politics of care.