This year many conferences have gone virtual. While we are excited about the possibilities this affords in terms of rethinking the conference, we are also aware of the limitations of online meet-ups, especially if they attempt to be digital replicas of the in-person conference rather than creatively different events. We are working in various ways with experiments at our conferences and at the same time recognise we need to find different audiences for our work and to engage in conversations about it. As part of this we will share our accepted conference abstracts in this logbook and invite people to get in touch however they wish if they want to explore these ideas further with us. To begin with we are posting our accepted abstracts for the EASST/STS (formerly Prague) 2020 annual conference (one of the bigger STS conferences in our field). Here is Andrea’s:
From peers to patients: On the effective entanglements of touch in medical education
Within medical discourse, touch is often presented dualistically as either serving a diagnostic or an affective end. Much of the traditional social science research on medical education, which theorized it as a process of learned detachment, would support such a dualistic understanding of touch. More recently, however, STS researchers have disrupted notions of detachment by showing that sensory knowledge is entangled with affect (Latour, 2004; Prentice, 2013; Myers, 2015), which suggests that learning to touch, even for diagnostic purposes, is also a case of learning to connect. In this paper, I focus on practices of learning to touch in medical education, drawing on ethnographic research at a medical school in northern Ghana, where I participated in physical examination classes and observed bedside teaching in hospital wards. Learning to touch at this school was an act of coordinating different materials and contexts—a grid drawn on a whiteboard, a gynecology manikin in a classroom, a simulated physical examination amongst peers, a physical examination of patients on the ward or during assessment. In and amongst these various practices of learning to touch, students were confronted with various experiences of concern, excitement, pain, and pleasure, indicating that practices of learning diagnostic touch were also touching practices, in the sense that they moved students to differently relate to patients (real or imagined). This entanglement of learning to touch with learning to relate to the patient raises questions about developments in medical education programs to move away from tangible learning experiences, especially those in which students are themselves the active recipients of touch.