In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medical Technology and Technique

  • Introduction
  • Biopolitics and Technologies of Life and Death
  • Technology and Technique
  • Disciplining Medical Technology
  • Technology as Knowledge Making and Sensory Practice
  • Haptic Styles
  • Emergent Contexts: Politics
  • Shifting Technology Landscapes: Slavery, Race, and (Post-)Colonial Subjugation
  • Technology and Reproductive Health
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Subjectivities

Anthropology Medical Technology and Technique
Sameena Mulla
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0225


The rich array of anthropological research on medical technology has primarily been carried out by anthropologists with specialization in medical anthropology, and science and technology studies. This research benefits from its conversations with the history of medicine. Among journals that have frequently published in this area are: Anthropology and Medicine; Culture, Health and Psychiatry; Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences; Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness; Medical Anthropology Quarterly; Medicine Anthropology Theory; Social History of Medicine; Social Studies of Science; and Sociology of Health and Illness. In this bibliography, material is organized thematically into eleven substantive sections to include work that exemplifies both long-standing topics as well as emerging frontiers of research. The first section introduces readers to the framework of biopolitics that often contextualizes scholarship on technology. Next, the reader is introduced to theorizing technology in relation to technique. This is followed by the issue of discipline in relation to medicine. The next two sections describe sensory practices encompassing the audio and the haptic. The article then turns to the conditions under which technologies are produced and used, treating the question of politics before discussing systems of subjugation. After this, the next section highlights technologies of rendering, broken down into visual technology, writing, and enumeration. The final three sections cover reproductive health, pharmaceuticals, and subjectivities. These topics represent dense nodes of anthropological scholarship that have informed the broader approach of anthropological research on technology and technique.

Biopolitics and Technologies of Life and Death

Within anthropological scholarship, medical technology and technique is engaged in its capacities to “make live” or “let die” as iconically described by Foucault 1992. Foucault’s primary methodology for establishing these scholarly positions is genealogical, and in Foucault 1969 he describes a form of historiographic and cultural analysis that follows particular material, discursive and generative trajectories without insisting on their singularity. A number of edited collections have compiled important work on medical technology framed through such themes as the biosciences, life and death, and reproductive health, including Brodwin 2001; Das and Han 2016; Franklin and Lock 2003; Ginsburg and Rapp 1995; and Lock, et al. 2000. A few key review articles have also provided insightful analysis of medical technology and technique, such as Jane and Corbett 2009; Kaufman and Morgan 2005; and Taylor 2005. This work is not exhaustive, but represents some of the major themes in the scholarship on anthropology of medical technology and technique. As biopolitics references the politics that engage life and death, related terms, such as biotechnology and biometrics, have emerged. The biopolitical subject arises as a primary disciplinary subject. Biotechnology references those techniques and technologies that intervene in biological processes, though this has often resulted in struggles over the definition of “biological” which, itself, is not understood as self-evident by anthropologists. Biometrics emerge as a form of measuring biological processes. The biopolitical, biotechnological, and biometric are deeply cultural and social.

  • Brodwin, Paul. 2001. Biotechnology and culture: Bodies, anxieties, ethics. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt2005txd

    An edited volume covering technological interventions into the body and the ethical complexities new technologies introduce.

  • Das, Veena, and Clara Han. 2016. Living and dying in the contemporary world: A compendium. Oakland: Univ. of California Press.

    An edited collection that locates technologies in particular contexts in relation to living, illness, and death.

  • Foucault, Michel. 1969. The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. New York: Vintage Books.

    A methodological treatise outlining Foucault’s approach to genealogical method, discursive formation, and the structure of rules. Both Madness and Civilization and The Birth of the Clinic, published earlier, use this method.

  • Foucault, Michel. 1992. Society must be defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975–1976. New York: Picador.

    A collection of eleven lectures in which Michel Foucault laid out some of the ideas for which he is now most well-known, including power, subjectivity, and genealogy, but develops them by positing them in the contexts of ongoing peace, developing a critique of sovereignty in contrast to the focus on war. The particular formulation of biopolitics here lays the groundwork for later political theorists to focus on necropolitics.

  • Franklin, Sarah, and Margaret Lock. 2003. Remaking life and death: Toward an anthropology of bioscience. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

    This volume takes up new definitions of life and death, with particular focus on genomics and cell science.

  • Ginsburg, Faye, and Rayna Rapp. 1995. Conceiving the new world order: The global politics of reproduction. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

    The quintessential primer on all things reproductive, with reference to the social complexities of a variety of reproductive technologies.

  • Jane, Craig R., and Kitty Corbett. 2009. Anthropology and global health. Annual Review of Anthropology 38:167–183.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-091908-164314

    Article lays out the rich global health literature, contextualizing the technologies that traverse national boundaries.

  • Kaufman, Sharon, and Lynn Morgan. 2005. The anthropology of the beginnings and ends of life. Annual Review of Anthropology 34:317–341.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.34.081804.120452

    Article focuses on research on the beginnings and endings of life, with particular emphasis on governance and biopolitics, thus focusing on technologies that organize and categorize life and death.

  • Lock, Margaret, Allan Young, and Alberto Cambrosio. 2000. Living and working with the new medical technologies. Edited by M. Lock, A. Young, and A. Cambrosio. London: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511621765

    An interdisciplinary dialogue on new biomedical technologies and their practical applications.

  • Taylor, Janelle. 2005. Surfacing the body interior. Annual Review of Anthropology 34:741–756.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.33.070203.144004

    A creative approach to medical anthropology’s focus on objects by emphasizing the action of “surfacing,” and therefore situating literature on medical technique and technology in relationship to its actions.

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