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Biomedicine in museums

Turns around every academic corner: is time ripe for an anti-turn turn?

By January 19, 2008No Comments

Academic ‘progress’ in the humanities and social studies could be described as one damned turn after the other.

In the good old days there used to be the linguistic turn plus a few others — the cultural turn, the social turn, the cognitive turn, a couple of anthropological turns and so forth. But now there seem to be turns all over the academic marketplace. (Science, technology and medicine don’t seem to be addicted to turns to the same extent as the humanities and social studies.)

A rapid browse reveals an economic turn, a material turn, (and a materialist turn), an affective turn, an emotional turn, at least two kinds of therapeutic turns, a whole lot of political turns (e.g., Bourdieu’s one). It goes without saying that there have been proposals for a post-modernist turn, a post-structuralist turn, etc. Our own field (museum studies) is replete with turns: a museological turn, a curatorial turn, etc. And then, of course, my own personal addiction: the biographical turn. Inventive internet users will easily find many more — and I haven’t even begun to search academic literature databases.

Some authors are humble, speaking about ‘a XX-ical turn’; others are more self-assured in their essentialist identification of ‘the XX-ical turn’, e.g., the Foucauldian turn’.

The logic behind all these turns seems to be that they are proposed in opposition to an alleged one-sided hegemonic, reductive perspective on the phenomena under study. Thus spokespersons for an economic turn emphasize the need for more economic theory in political science, and vice versa. There seem to be a general feeling of Angst visavis theoretical reductionism around every corner: so better suggest a ‘turn’ in order to combat it.

So turns are turned against turns. I am surprised that nobody seems to have suggested an academic moratorium on turns yet. What would the humanities and social studies look like if we weren’t allowed to think in terms of ‘turns’? Maybe it’s time to propose an anti-turn turn?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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