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Forming a Medical Work-Object

The Case of General Medicine and Obstetrics
Anne-Chantal Hardy
Traduction de Gabrielle Varro
p. 77-102


A work-object can be defined as what makes sense of an activity, i.e. that gives it both meaning and direction. In contexts where all doctors are specialists and perform very different tasks, is it possible to find a work-object that might be shared by the entire medical profession? After challenging the concept of “work-object” and the various ways it can be analysed, the author attempts to grasp its most widespread characteristic, i.e. what doctors are taught during the first six years of medical school. She then goes on to dissect two medical specialties –general medicine and obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G)– and shows that a work-object, practically inseparable from the way it is taught, evolves differently in each discipline. This leads to discussing the link between practical and theoretical training, that could apply to all healthcare activity, and even beyond, to other professions.

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Notes de la rédaction

Article published in French in Travail et Emploi, no 141, janvier-mars 2015.

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Texte intégral disponible via abonnement/accès payant sur le portail Cairn. Le texte intégral en libre accès sera disponible à cette adresse en janvier 2021.
Consulter cet article


The Medical Work-Object Grasped at its Inception
Taking Off from the Work-Object
What is a Medical Work-Object?
Combining Training and Classifying
Joining Theory and Practice
Opposing General and Specialised
Forming Special Objects, General Medicine: from Training to Specialisation
A Formal Specialisation
An Anomic Specialty?
Forming Special objects, Obstetrics: Forming a Risky Object
A Branch with Shifting Boundaries
Curing a Risk

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All of us have, tucked away in the back of our minds, at least one unforgettable scene –Charcot presenting a hysterical woman to his colleagues, an operation or dissection being carried out in the middle of an amphitheatre– because medical training is always a matter of showing and seeing. When the day comes that, ourselves in hospital, we must face the pack of students crowding into our room behind “the professor”, we realize that may be what “learning by the sickbed” means.

What in fact does the expression: “by the sickbed” imply? It is true that doctors learn next to hospital beds but do they really learn from the patient? Is it the patient who provides the substance to be learnt or is that made of something else? What are students being taught to see when they are “shown” a patient?

For Eliot Freidson (1970, p. 172), observing medical practice in American post-war clinics, it went without saying that a doctor’s job was above all else practical: “It is by nature not very theoretica...

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Référence papier

Anne-Chantal Hardy, « Forming a Medical Work-Object », Travail et Emploi, Hors-série | 2017, 77-102.

Référence électronique

Anne-Chantal Hardy, « Forming a Medical Work-Object », Travail et Emploi [En ligne], Hors-série | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 janvier 2018, consulté le 21 novembre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/travailemploi.7634

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Anne-Chantal Hardy

Droit et changement social (The Law and Social Change, Research Lab UMR 6297) affiliated to the CNRS and Nantes University;

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