A rebellious distemper : a Foucaultian history of breast cancer to 1900

McCarthy, Alexandra Leigh (2005) A rebellious distemper : a Foucaultian history of breast cancer to 1900. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This dissertation explores some of the conditions of possibility underpinning contemporary breast cancer discourse, which is imbued with harsh moral, social and spiritual nuance. I have therefore explored a set of questions concerned with the past state of things in breast cancer care that laid the foundation for present approaches. I wanted to know how it became possible to speak what we now regard as the only truth about breast cancer. I wanted to understand how this truth was determined; who determined it, and who or what gave them the right to assert that their truth was the only truth. I wanted to acquire insight into the ways that thinking about and managing breast cancer based on this truth came to dominate the post-modern consciousness (rather than other, perhaps equally valid ways). And if it was possible, I wanted to open up a space for thinking differently about breast cancer. Finally, I wanted to test the fit of the ideas of the philosopher-historian, Michel Foucault, to these questions.

Foucault's notions of discontinuity, discipline, the gaze, normalising judgements and to a lesser extent, some aspects of power/knowledge and the ethics of the self are here tested on the surgical archive of breast cancer, which housed the discourse that best represented Western societal beliefs about the disease, and which had been invested by society with the greatest authority in its conception and management. The analytic framework - modes of consciousness - suggested by Foucault provided a coherent structure with which to explore the archive. I found that there are numerous elements in the archive instrumental in cementing the conditions of possibility for breast cancer discourse in our own time. This dissertation demonstrates that, as is the case in the present day, these were based on unstable truths about breast cancer that were a result of a complex of sociocultural and political norms rather than an objective truth.

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ID Code: 16030
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Kendall, Gavin
Keywords: Breast cancer, Foucault, surgical archive, critical modality, enunciative modality, practical modality, analytic modality
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Nursing
Department: QUT Carseldine
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:55
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:42

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