Between the Sciences Psychosomatic Medicine as a Feminist Discipline
Psychosomatic medicine was an interdisciplinary medical field established in the late 1930s in response to growing dissatisfaction with the Cartesianism assumed in both general medicine and psychiatry. Seeking a method that could address the many health conditions that fell outside the scope of any particular specialisation, advocates of this movement were doctors, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who insisted on treating the organism as a whole. Among these was Helen Flanders Dunbar, an enigmatic psychiatrist and philosopher, who insisted that the success of medicine rested on its ability to apprehend the interrelationality of mind and body as an object in its own right.
This article shows that Dunbar’s ambition to develop a practice of medicine that would more faithfully address the organism as whole, rather than fragment, evokes the larger issue of how we can know and study life objectively. Drawing on the works of feminist STS scholars Karen Barad and Donna Haraway, I show that Dunbar grappled with the situatedness of knowledge practices – and specifically, the relationship between object and method – as a central concern of her discipline. I argue that psychosomatic medicine is an example of feminist thought as science because its very practice relies on holding alive questions about the nature of objectivity, truth and the ontological entanglement of ‘what’ and ‘how’ we know
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