Sometimes I’m asked what ‘biomedicine’ means. It’s rarely medical people that ask, but people from the humanities often do. I use to answer that ‘biomedicine’ is the emerging amalgamation throughout the 20th century of the life sciences and medical research, but I haven’t had an authoritative history of the term to refer to.
Now there is one, however. In a recent article (“Biomedizin‘ in sozial- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Beiträgen: Eine Begriffskarriere zwischen Analyse und Polemik”) in NTM Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin (vol. 18: 497-522), Walter Bruchhausen analyses the trajectory of the term ‘biomedicine’ during the last half century in the social science literature. Not unexpectedly he finds that when the term ‘biomedical’ entered politics and the social sciences, especially medical anthropology, it meant medical research methods derived from biology as opposed to behavioural research or social sciences in general, but also “the complex of Western health care in non-Western countries and the reductionism and alleged Cartesian dualism of its approach – the opposite of traditional, religious, holistic and psychic views and treatment of illness”. The rather late German reception of the term ‘biomedicine’ replaced the older term ‘Schulmedizin’.
It’s behind a paywall, of course (it’s Springer), which reminds me that open access isn’t really an acute issue in highly technical fields, but a major problem for the humanities and social sciences.