Book Reviews

Sikka CoverReview of “A Breast Cancer Alphabet” by Madhulika Sikka

Breast Cancer Consortium Feb. 2014.

A Breast Cancer Alphabet is straight-forward, concise, and honest book by news executive Madhulika Sikka that breathes new life into a breast cancer world too often drowning in symbolism, cliche, and product placement. The short (2- to 5-page) entries offer 26 personal reflections — from A (“anxiety”) to Zzzz’s (meaning, “sleep”) — that speak to the contours of her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, uncertainty amid mountains of information, and how none of the signposts in Cancerland really prepares anyone for the trip. Each letter shares a glimpse of how Sikka made sense of, and navigated, her breast cancer but also opens a new conversation about one of the most talked about, venerated, and commercialized diseases in American culture. Sikka’s alphabetical musings share aspects of breast cancer that are often, unless you’re in the right circles, unspoken. By giving them voice and situating them within the broader cultural context, she invites readers to think about the power and the limits of language and culture. In doing so, she encourages readers to think about their own alphabet(s).

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Murphy Book CoverReview of “Seizing the Means of Reproduction: Entanglements of Feminism, Health, and Technoscience” by Michelle Murphy

Gender & Society Oct. 2013.

In Seizing the Means of Reproduction, Michelle Murphy traces a set of feminist projects in the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond to demonstrate how feminist, liberal, and imperial experiments to seize the means of reproduction animated one another in efforts to achieve empowerment, health, and national prosperity. She shows how a proliferation of feminisms problematized but also relied on technoscience and a new moral economy to work toward their goals, and how the problems feminist health activists tackled were “remade, refolded, rearticulated, [and] rematerialized by assemblages operating on different scales, on discrepant terrains, with shifting practices” (p. 149). Far from being unified, feminist politics was a matter of relations between feminisms, entangled in historical formations, politics of difference, and biopolitical tendencies that varied by time and space and valued life via reproduction differently.


Mattingly CoverReview of “The Paradox of Hope: Journeys through a Clinical Borderland” by Cheryl Mattingly

Contemporary Sociology Vol. 41 (no. 2): pp. 223-4, 2012.

The Paradox of Hope by Cheryl Mattingly intimately explores the experiences of African American families who are caring for children with severe and chronic health problems and disabilities. Bearing witness to their crises as they navigate the medical system within the specific context of the multicultural urban hospital, Mattingly analyzes hope not only as an existential problem but also as a culturally and structurally situated discursive practice, one that involves deep contemplation about what it means to have a good life and be a good person in the wake of suffering. For those facing serious impairment, hope is a personal practice and an ongoing conversation within the context of interpersonal relationships, the health care system, and the broader culture.

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Clarke CoverReview of “Biomedicalization: Technoscience, Health, and Illness in the U.S.” by Clarke, A.E., Mamo, L., Fosket, J.R., Fishman, J.R., and Shim, J.

Sociology of Health and Illness Vol. 34 (no. 1): pp. 155-157, 2012.

Biomedicalization, by Adele E. Clarke and colleagues, is an ambitious book that fleshes out the complexities of technoscientific biomedicine and showcases stellar case studies that concretize and complicate existing understandings of biomedicalization and its impact on society and life itself. The authors systematically explain five interrelated processes that form the foundation of biomedicalization theory and situate biomedicalization within the recent history of American medicine while tracing epistemological developments and demonstrating the increased permeation of the biological sciences. The bio prefix is of critical importance to (bio)medicalization theory as it signifies new forms of (bio)power, (bio)politics, and (bio)capital that are situated at the site of the body and implicated in social processes. (Bio)medicalization further integrates the body –‘from macro to nano’– into efficient systems and regulatory controls that bend the ‘clinical gaze’ in a molecular direction.

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Subramanian CoverReview of “After the Cure: The Untold Stories of Breast Cancer Survivors” by Emily Abel and Saska Subramanian

Pink Ribbon Blues Blog, October 12, 2011.

The book, “After the Cure: The Untold Stories of Breast Cancer Survivors,” by medical historian Emily Abel and medical sociologist Saskia Subramanian captures the spectrum of long-term post-treatment side effects that health practitioners often fail to acknowledge or address. Abel and Subramanian interviewed 74 women who discuss the physical symptoms and emotional realities resulting not only from treatment but from the cocktail of drugs used to mitigate the side effects of those treatments. They experienced debilitating fatigue, weakness, nerve damage, pain, memory loss and/or inability to concentrate (i.e., chemo-brain), insomnia, lymphedema, headaches, arthritis, loss of sex drive, and other symptoms. ”The accumulation of diverse symptoms often gave women the sense that their bodies and minds were falling apart.” Is this what “beating cancer” looks like?

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Book CoverReview of “Better Cancer Care” by Liz Forbat, Gill Hubbard, and Nora Kearney

Sociology of Health and Illness Vol. 32 (no. 4): pp. 2-3, 2010.

Better Cancer Care by Forbat and colleagues focuses on what it means to have cancer or to be involved in cancer care. Based in research in Scotland, the book emphasizes that cancer affects not only the diagnosed, but also friends, families, health professionals, co-workers, and communities. The authors argue that, although a patient-centered approach—particularly patient choice and empowerment—is the focus of much policy and practice in Scotland, cancer care policy and practice have failed to address broader social contexts. Thus, additional policies should focus on the development of community and professional partnerships, recognition of unpaid ⁄ informal carers, consideration of identity issues and meaning making, and promotion of a general culture of caring that focuses on the cancer patient as a social being who is more than an embodied tumor.

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