Reading Medical Anecdotes as Narratives of Epistemic Vigilance

Reading Medical Anecdotes as Narratives of Epistemic Vigilance

Tuesday 1 June, 2021
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM BST

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The sciences teem with anecdotes, brief, pointed testimonies revolving around observations and encounters suggestive of new phenomena and hypotheses, which lead to shifts in scientific understanding.

Medical anecdotes also feature observations and may include dialogues gathered from scattered zones of healthcare experience. Considered a ‘minor form’ inhabiting the intersections of professional, public, and private realms, these accounts of revelatory episodes invoke lived experiences that challenge medical views of a situation.

In this talk Professor Brian Hurwitz examines the ways anecdotes marshal healthcare materials; present and reframe information; entertain explanations, and bring scenarios and conceptual frameworks for understanding them into close relationship with each other. In demonstrating how dependent medical understanding can be on lived vantagepoint and switches of perspective, these ‘nutshell narratives’ speak of the need for an ‘epistemic vigilance’, which turns not just on vantagepoint, but also on switches of speaker and the voices heard in healthcare.

Brian Hurwitz is D’Oyly Carte Professor of Medicine and the Arts in the Department of English. He is a medical practitioner affiliated to the Division of Health and Social Care Research, King’s College London, directs the Centre for the Humanities and Health and is a member of the Steering Advisory Board of the Centre for Life-Writing Research at King’s.