What are Medical Modernities?

Medical Modernities is not a sequence of epochs. It is an ever adapting medical paradigm with a history, a present and a future. And it is a research perspective.

With the term Medical Modernities I attempt to theorise the politics of life as temporal and spatial politics. Taking on a perspective of Medical Modernities means paying attention to the historically and geographically situated nature of medicine as a science and as an everyday practice. It is about understanding the multiplicity of medicine and disease not only through its diverse fields of practice and experience but also through its layers of time. It is also concerned with understanding contemporary medical practices and truth claims of biomedicine and public health as deeply entrenched in modernist frameworks yet always already subverting them. How modernity and its temporal figures and fantasies are articulated and de-articulated is as important as the way medicine plays with progress, failures, innovation, improvisation, stagnation and – not least important – with peoples’ lives.

Medical Modernities is about medicine’s modes of existence in a globalised world in a time when boundaries between North and South are blurred and (re)erected, when knowledge, diseases and people travel and when the future is not as bright as it used to be. If modernity can be defined as a continuous attempt to leave the past behind, medical modernities can be seen as an ensemble of paths that attempt to navigate the biomedical present, caught in a productive tension between past and future.

Why a blog about Medical Modernities?

The idea to work on and through a notion of Medical Modernities goes back to my Ph.D. dissertation. In my thesis I worked on tuberculosis in France and Germany in the 21st century, thereby engaging in a somewhat anachronistic and displaced research endeavour. As is widely known by now, tuberculosis is no more of great public health importance and interest in Western European countries- but it has been until the 1970s. Yet since the mid 1990s, it has become to be known a major scourge in many Southern countries and as such attracts increasingly attention in the field of global health.

Through this tension – little interest and attraction of tuberculosis in the North and a pressing problem with increasing attention in the South – I came to be interested in understanding the ways medical objects are enmeshed with  styles of science, modes of research and socio-political problematizations worldwide. As for tuberculosis, it’s contemporaneity is dependend on different layers of modernity, that is on the intersection of historically superposed regimes of treatment, control and interest, which lead to an ambivalent existence of the disease in the North, while becoming an now unquestioned yet for decades neglected scourge in the South. In short: At the samt time as  TB became a disease without a future in the North, its future was displaced to the South.

The lense of Medical Modernities allows to grasp the changing tense and geography of this (and other) diseases in our medicalised world, where health and disease are widely debated and intervened in phenomena from the scale of the local to the global. Analysing the ways diseases are problematised, treated and researched on differently in time and space is therefore a means to understand the multiple layers of medical modernities – that is the way scientific medicine and public health work through notions of  time.

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This blog is work-in-progress. It is thinking by writing, researching by testing. It is conceptual trial and error – as is usually the case for science – with the benefits of supplementarity, extensibility, reversibility, openness and imperfection made possible through the medium of digital communication. Research is risk-taking, exposure and provisionality. But it is also collaboration, communication and sharing, even – or especially – in times of doubt and début.


In my academic life, I operate in three languages: French, English and German. Tired of never-ending, always imperfect and ever necessary translations, the posts on the blog simply come in the language as they are: as they are thought or written or conceived or read or heard. All headers are in English, the language of the post being always indicated in brackets. (God save the liberty of the Web!)


There is no standard format. Posts are opinions, idea-throwings, accounts of research or teaching experiences, conference tweets, book comments and more. There is no symmetry of form nor regularity of frequency, there is just the pleasure to write, to comment, to question, to repeat, to react, to act.


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