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Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) Conference

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference -Mixed Audience


Radiotherapy and the Ambivalence of a Pharmakon

Radiotherapy kills cancer cells, with either the intention of cure or slowing progression; yet alongside its therapeutic effects, radiotherapy also causes short and/or long-term effects. Effects of treatment include, amongst others, sore skin, tiredness, feeling sick, and diarrhoea as well as changes in sexual health and wellbeing, fertility problems, lymphoedema and psychosocial issues. Drawing on the pharmakon as a conceptual tool (Derrida 1981), we examine the ways in which radiotherapy holds a paradoxical pharmakon status: it is both a remedy at the same time as it is toxic. We draw on preliminary findings from a project on women’s experiences of radiotherapy treatment for gynae cancer, discussing the complex and often ambivalent effects of radiotherapy, how it treats but also reconfigures bodies and identities. We analyse the manifestations as well as politics of this ambivalence, exploring whether and how ambivalence may be unwisely obscured or underplayed. We conclude by asking whether ambivalence may offer a productive space for reflection and for generating new ways of supporting patients who undergo radiotherapy treatment for cancer.

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TitleSociety for the Social Studies of Science (4S) Conference