Isabelle Dussauge

visiting researcher at Department of History of Science and Ideas

Visiting address:
Engelska parken, Thunbergsv 3P
Postal address:
Box 629
751 26 UPPSALA

Short presentation

I am an STS-researcher with a penchant for the history of medicine—or a historian of medicine with a recurrent interest for questions of science, technology, power, epistemology and visual culture.

I am currently researching the use of human fetuses in vaccine development and virology in Sweden in the 1950s and 1960s. Which issues related to the scientific use of aborted fetuses became the object of ethical questioning? In tensions with which other values, and why?

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My courses


I have had the privilege to work in many creative and knowledgeable environments. Having previously worked at the Dept of Historical studies @KTH, Tema T @Linköping University and Center for Gender Research @Uppsala University, I am currently a researcher at Uppsala University’s Department of History of Science and Ideas, where I conduct a project within the research program Medicine at the Borders of Life, directed by Solveig Jülich

FETUSES AND VACCINES. In this project, I explore the use of aborted human fetuses in Swedish vaccine production and virology in the 1950s and 1960s. Virology, and especially the labs in charge of the production of a national vaccine against polio in the 1950s, used large numbers of human fetuses for tissue cultures in which viruses could reproduce and be studied or used for vaccines. The present project aims to document and analyze the supply of aborted fetuses from women’s clinics in the Stockholm region to the virology labs located at the State Bacteriological Laboratory. The current project asks whether, why and when these practices and research became controversial.

The history I am unveiling is, in part, a story of the establishment of an infrastructure supplying living materials for one of the major scientific endeavours of the time: providing people with immunity against polio, and eventually eradicating the virus nationally and worldwide. Major historical backdrops for the medical research under scrutiny here were the 1950s’ national efforts to fight poliomyelitis; changing views on abortion and abortion laws in Sweden; and the establishment of virology and of tissue/cell culture methods. My interrogations direct our gaze towards the history of ethics and other values, and related controversies. Which practices came to be the object of conflicting ethical questionings in the 1960s, in which terms, and why? Which ethics, or other registers of value, did researchers, doctors and public health authorities give prevalence to?

I hold a Ph.D. in the history of technology. Here are some highlights from my previous (and sometimes still ongoing) interests:

• TECHNOMEDICAL VISIONS. My dissertation (2008) is entitled Technomedical Visions: Magnetic Resonance Imaging in 1980s Sweden and this work explored the multifaceted relation between the (then) new medical imaging method MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and the medical gaze practices, representations and epistemology.

• COMPUTERIZATION AND HEALTH CARE. I have been working with a huge documentation project about the early computerisation of health care and medicine in Sweden, and I have since then had a special interest in the utopias of computerization and the health screening programs in Sweden of the 1960s and 1970s.

• BRAIN DESIRES. My interest for medicine and the sciences of sexuality led me to conducting the research project Brain Desires, a critical exploration of the contemporary imaging-based neuroscience of sexuality (funded by the Vetenskapsrådet). Narratives of male and female brains are recurrent figures in the media and so are brain scans showing the ‘gay brain’. This prompts many questions. What is sexuality when studied as something of the brain? Why do we (as a society) put people in a scanner in order to utter something about who or what they are? Why is our culture so fascinated by the brain, impregnated with ‘brain desire’? In this project I explored neuroscience’s view of the human as a hedonic subject, and I have tried to engage with contemporary brain desire, bio-voyeurism, and search for inner truths within people’s brains. (All of this with a dash of neurofeminism, and our attempts to shape a queerer neuroscience.)

• FEMINISM AND SCIENCE. I have, often together with others, developed courses and workshops in what we have come to call feminist academic self-defence: strategies and practices for feminists in academia.

• VALUES. In the last years I have been committed to issues of values and value production. Francis Lee, C-F Helgesson, and I edited together an important volume in the field, Value Practices in Medicine and the Life Sciences (OUP 2015).


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