Posthumanist Medicine: Participatory Healthcare, Medical Humanities, and Digital Media
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This dissertation explores the construction of illness in the context of two interrelated processes that both propose a more empowered patient role and a whole person model for healthcare. Specifically, these contexts are the digitally mediated space of “health 2.0” and the medical movement toward humanistic practices, such as narrative medicine. This research identifies and questions some of the deeply ingrained humanistic leanings of these approaches to reveal how an essentialist understanding of the human perpetuates the modern biomedical conceptualization of healing. The concept of wholeness is deployed—in the sense of bodies, selves, and illness narratives—to continue understanding the sick body/mind as broken and in need of mending by institutionalized medicine. This same conceptualization is taken up online where individuals represent their experiences of illness. The space of health social networking sites serves as a reinforcement of the quantified self of modern medicine, a tactic employed to support commercial profitability. By critically analyzing the language and goals of medical humanities, the visual rhetoric, social use, and political economy of websites where online illness narratives are crafted, and the social contexts attached to the contemporary experience of illness, this dissertation argues for a posthumanist thought intervention in medical training, healthcare delivery, and digital health.