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Medical Data

Deadline for proposals: 15 December 2020

Big data has now imposed itself in the field of health: large amounts of data are used in biomedical research to diagnose disease or consider treatments. Data also responds to accounting logics (management of healthcare institutions in particular) and is more widely used in highly competitive markets (technological and pharmaceutical industries, insurance). Medical data, which is highly coveted, is being traded worldwide and raises questions about the economic and scientific models that underlie it.

Nowadays, the paradigm of large numbers is leading to a renewal of medical representations of the body (which is fragmented into as many comparable and freely combinable data) and of the therapeutic relationship. The advent of so-called personalized medicine, artificial intelligence and its algorithmic devices is indeed accompanied by new imaginaries and care rhetorics. The latter apply themselves to deploy a prophetic discourse on the scientific discoveries to come, on the capacity of science to repel disease and even death, to strengthen and normalize bodies; the idea of an all-powerful medicine, in short. The “truth” of the bodies and the resolution of their disorders is found only in what is thought to be a double objectification: the processing of quantitatively numerous data carried out by a machine without affect/emotions.

We propose to return to these medical rhetorics, to grasp these intellectual and technical promises over a long period of time, linking them to the therapeutic relationships they induce. By investing on the one hand the caregiver imaginaries, and on the other hand, the place of suffering individuals, we want to investigate the breakdowns generated by the emergence of medical data in large numbers, as well as the very strong permanence, even in contemporary discourses, of the idea of "progress" necessarily obtained at a distance, more and more important, of the human mediation, to seize bodies and their pathologies.

We would particularly like this thematic issue to question the notion of medical data over a long period of time, starting from the principle that they constitute all the elements mobilized by health care workers to apprehend the state of health of individuals and their possible pathologies. In particular, it is a question of reflecting on the mechanisms of power over the bodies produced by a medical view based on the elaboration of serial data and investigating the way in which it shapes medical knowledge and the very definition of pathologies.

Various avenues of research could be explored:

  • Definitions and elaboration of medical data: what are, over the centuries, the bodily or psychic elements observed and evaluated by the caretakers? How does one go from the experience of the sick body to the enunciation of a singular pathology? How does one elaborate a given, from sensualist approaches to technical devices? What are the methods and contexts for recording, but also the processes of objectification of the body? What place is there for the perceptions of sufferers and their narratives?

  • Data and paradigms: how do idiosyncratic, holistic, personalized or predictive medicine relate to data? What significant changes in representations of the body and health can be detected?

  • Forms of data: in what forms are data processed? What coding is required to be understood and compared? What are the implications for their mobilisation and processing?

  • Serialisation: the serial approach, at the heart of large numbers of data, invites us to explore the notion of “case” and its possible serialisation, but also to return to the rationalities at work. What intelligence should be mobilized to capture the data? What is the place of the caregivers in relation to the data, how to make them talk? Does the algorithmic machine lead to a disqualification of the observation and analysis capacities of the caregivers, who are simply the “enlightened” executors of the proposed diagnoses or treatments?

  • Patients: What is the place of patients, and more broadly of individuals, in these devices? What to do with the sensitive and individual experience of patients: is it a given and how is it translated? What kind of collaboration is required from patients? What negotiation skills do patients have when faced with data? What are the implications for the therapeutic relationship?

  • Use of medical data: how and in what areas can medical data be used outside the scope of care? What have been the mobilizations of these data in the economic, social, political, military field? To whom do they belong and by which devices have they become monetizable?

Contributions relating to this theme, but more intended for the critical presentation of sources, textual and/or iconographic, may also be proposed for the “Sources and Documents” section of the journal.

Histoire, médecine et santé publishes articles in French as well as in English and Spanish. Proposals for contributions to the “Sources and Documents” section may be submitted in one of these three languages, but the printed publication of these texts will be exclusively in French translation; however, the digital version may be bilingual.

The proposed work should not exceed 45 000 characters (including spaces) for articles and 10 000 for texts presenting sources. They should be sent until 15 December 2020 to Céline Barthonnat (celine.barthonnat [@] cnrs.fr).

For any scientific questions about this call, you can contact Hervé Guillemain (herve.guillemain [@] univ-lemans.fr) or Nahema Hanafi (nahema.hanafi [@] univ-angers.fr).

Instructions are available on the journal's website at https://journals.openedition.org/hms/757.

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