General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
In recent years, scholars working at the intersection of medical and linguistic anthropology have developed the concept of biocommunicability, which draws attention to the ways in which ideological models of health communication shape the production and circulation of health knowledge. In contrast to simplistic models that describe health communication as the linear transfer of information from doctor to patient, biocommunicability emphasizes dynamic interactions between hierarchically positioned actors who articulate health knowledge in a variety of ideologically and technologically mediated ways. Building on the existing literature, this paper develops the concept of pediatric communicability, which emphasizes the manner in which ideas about childhood, adolescence, and parenthood shape ideologies of health communication in pediatric contexts. Drawing on 18 months of fieldwork at a pediatric cancer treatment center in the San Francisco Bay Area, I show how health care providers imagine communication about cancer as an ongoing, iterative process through which parents and patients are guided through the difficulties and uncertainties of treatment, which involves a vast range of technologically mediated procedures that tend to cause many iatrogenic effects. In contrast to previous anthropological studies, which have theorized cancer communication in terms of disclosure practices, the concept of pediatric communicability draws attention not only to human actors and their communicative gestures and utterances, but also to the communicative presence of non-human and quasi-human actors, such as chemotherapy drugs, cancer cells, and computers.