Medical gaze  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The medical gaze is a term coined by French philosopher and critic, Michel Foucault in his 1963 book, The Birth of the Clinic (translated to English in 1973), to denote the often-dehumanizing method by which medical professionals separate the body from the person (see mind-body dualism). Foucault uses the term as part of a genealogy attempt to describe the creation of a field of knowledge concerning the body. According to him, the material and intellectual structures which gave rise to the possibility of carrying on an analytic of the body was mixed with power interests: entering the field of knowledge, the individual human body also entered the field of power, becoming a possible target for manipulation. The term was originally confined to postmodern and poststructuralist academics, but is now frequently found in post baccalaureate classes on medicine and social work.

According to Foucault, the French and American Revolutions that spawned modernity also created a "metanarrative" of scientific discourse that held scientists, and specifically, doctors, as sages who would, in time, solve all of humanity's problems by abolishing sickness. For the 19th Century moderns, doctors in a way replaced the increasingly-discredited medieval clergy; instead of saving souls, medical professionals saved the body. This myth, according to Foucault, was part of a larger discourse of the humanist and Enlightenment schools of thought that believed the human body to be the sum of a person. This notion, known as biological reductionism, became a powerful tool of the new sages: Through thorough examination (or gazing) of a body, a doctor deduces symptom, illness, and cause, therefore reaching an unparalleled understanding of the patient.

The doctor's analytic gaze was thought to penetrate surface illusions in a near-mystical discovery of hidden truths.

A broad range of academics have co-opted the term and applied to various fields. For example, Jacques Lacan appropriated the term gaze for a number of situations, while many feminist academics have discussed the male gaze as the method by which men objectify women.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Medical gaze" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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