Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Biomedical Model Influence: How do I know what I know?

To situate myself in the mindset of the biomedical model is not difficult to do. I’ve done this my entire life. I was brought up in this school of thinking, through the pathways of treatment my mom exposed me to when I was sick, the preferred technologies in combating loved ones’ illnesses, and the medical knowledge readily shared through the plethora of available media channels. As an adult, I’m readily supporting this model as I have come to rely on it and refer to it for my own daughter. And, thus, the dominant power and its social construction of reality continue to be supported by me, a life-long member. Oh, and should I mention that I’m a white, middle class female with advanced degrees?

In the depth and breadth of the CCA discussion, and after the strangely difficult-to-admit-truth above, I find myself wanting to take the opportunity and consider a redefining of Marx’s class consciousness. What does it mean to me, and how does my position, my beliefs, and values contribute to an ever-widening gap between the dominant structure and those marginalized communities that obviously are in desperate need of learning how to shift their external locus of control into an internal locus of control (insert strong sarcastic tone here)?

Chapter 5 in Dutta provides a strong depiction of how the biomedical model is situated in the context of the dominant structure. Of course, over the last couple of months, we have been continually challenged with the question, “How do we know what we know?” and “How does our application of knowledge affect the audiences we are drawn to serve and help?”

On page 125, there is an excerpt from the New York Times, highlighting a discussion of two university scientists who contemplate the need for an “Office of Alternative Medicine to evaluate unconventional practices.” They are quick to note that it would not be intended to elevate “magical notions to matters of serious scientific debate.” While this is just a very quick snapshot of the argument in its entirety, it does an excellent job of demonstrating how, even when there is an attempt to acknowledge these alternative approaches (even the word alternative quickly offers it a marginalized position within the dominant paradigm), it is readily interpreted by and through the biomedical model. I assume that if such an Office was established, it would be housed with the likes of the university scientists leading this discussion. Of course, CCA is quick to pick up on this and states that this approach should be considered a major faux pas in the context of curing and healing. In essence, what a waste that would be of taxpayer dollars.

The last couple of months have challenged me to reconsider the personal epistemology I’ve grown to hold and support over the last few decades. How do I know what I know? And, what has brought me to this point of knowing? I often think about the story of Suzanne (Dutta, pg. 17) who recently graduated with a PhD in health communication. Her interests were the issues of global health and she was aware of the funding potential opportunities to support her research interests. With little physical exposure to the issues of global health, she was ill-positioned to be an effective researcher, working with audiences that need to matter the most. Even with the advanced degree, a tenure-track faculty position and potential access to grant dollars, Suzanne is still not adequately prepared and could unknowingly do more harm than good in her research. How closely aligned is my epistemology to that of Suzanne’s? And, more importantly, how do I ensure that I am not just like her when I am in that position?

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