Allison, Rachel, MA

Crafting Bodies: An anthropological exploration of the entanglement of technology and the senses in 21st century medical education

Department of Technology and Society Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,  Maastricht University,r.allison@maastrichtuniversity.n l

Supervisor: Prof. Sally Wyatt and Dr. Anna Harris


Having grown up on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, I received a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Anthropology) from The University of Sydney. Following this, I relocated to Copenhagen, Denmark where I obtained my Master of Science in Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen. Here, my MSc thesis (completed under the supervision of Professor Dr Susan Reynolds Whyte) explored the contemporary temporal and experiential configurations of impaired fecundity in the United States, in light of the development, uptake, and proliferation of assisted reproductive technologies.

Medical education, a learning that is both situated within the human body and seeks to know the human body, deals closely with human sensorial faculties in the training of novice physicians. Here, a multisensorial understanding of oneself, translations of sensory experience, and the embodiment of sensory skills, are vital to both teaching and learning. But how do doctors acquire the “non-verbal,” “tacit,” and “taken-for-granted” bodily and sensory knowledge and skills necessary to their trade? That is, what do experiencing, sensing bodies know? How do we come to know what these bodies know? And, when considering the wide range of pedagogical tools employed in contemporary medical education, how are technologies implicated in what bodies know?

With these overarching questions informing my research trajectories, this project will consider contemporary understandings of human sensorial faculties and the production and translation of sensory knowledge in digital times. This will be explored through the empirical problem of the teaching and learning of physical examination skills within medical education—specifically in the interrogation of the way in which pedagogical technologies are implicated in this endeavour. Here, I will interrogate the central question, how are sensing bodies crafted in and through 21st century medical education?

The collection of data within this project will occur over the course of 10 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a medical school in Budapest, Hungary. Here, I will attend lectures, practical classes, study sessions, and clinical rounds with medical students, ensuring throughout that learning alongside remains the primary tenet of my methodology—that is, learning how bodies are crafted, in part, through the crafting of my own.

This project is part of the ERC-funded Making Clinical Sense: A comparative study of how doctors learn in digital times [*link:], led by Assistant Professor Dr Anna Harris and embedded within the Department of Technology & Society Studies at Maastricht University.