My research participates in the emergent interdisciplinary field of critical medical or health studies, which seeks to encourage the cross-fertilization of theories and methods from the social sciences, humanities, and interdisciplinary fields, such as women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, science studies, and disability studies, into medical and health thought and practice. In its formulation and practices, critical medical studies demands a collaborative approach. Medicine is a field that combines science, art, religion, and public policy. The experience of illness and its diagnosis and treatment connects the local and phenomenological—the embodied individual in the world and in relation to others—with national and transnational systems and structures in the period of late liberalism. Critical medical studies takes medicine, health, and illness as multiple and complex objects to be studied with tools from many domains.
My book, Indirect Action: Schizophrenia, Epilepsy, AIDS, and the Course of Health Activism (Minnesota, 2016), explores illness, thought, and activism, and their interconnectedness, in the period just before and after the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. My intervention is theoretical and methodological as well as political and therapeutic. By expanding the historiographical parameters through which illness and health activism in the U.S. have tended to be thought, I demonstrate how and why illness figured prominently in the social, political, theoretical, and institutional transformations that took place in the period from around 1960 to when AIDS arrived. The experience of illness (both mental and physical) figures prominently in the critical thought and activism of the 1960s and 1970s, yet its importance has been largely forgotten in accounts of this period, which have tended to emphasize the figures and practices of sexuality rather than, and as mutually exclusive of, those of illness. My concern with analyzing the continuities and discontinuities between practices of health activism began as I was finishing my first book, Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness (Minnesota, 2007). Treatments explores the ways that illness narratives can be read as symptomatic texts of our time in at least two respects: as texts that literally describe symptoms (and struggle with finding a form to describe the affective and physical experience of symptoms), and as texts that describe illness as an event that goes beyond any particular individual’s experience and account of it, reflecting wider cultural categories, including race, gender, class, and sexuality.