Deep Dish - Screening Sex: Enacting HPV Through Gender and Sexuality

Thursday, October 27, 2016 -
12:00pm to 1:00pm
Presenter(s): 
Will Robertson
Location: 
McClelland Park Building, Room 402

Every few years around the time of the Olympic games, there is a flurry of media stories about “gender testing” and sports. The underlying logics of such invasive medical examinations have been thoroughly criticized by a number of activists and scholars who make plain the myriad problems in this kind of socio-medical practice. While “gender testing” in sports is an explicit activity visible to the public, I argue that the screening of sex/gender and sexuality implicitly occurs in everyday biomedical diagnostics. As part of my dissertation research on anal cancer, I seek to shed light on the sexed/gendered and sexualized nature of a specific kind of everyday medical practice: HPV screening. Drawing on the work of medical anthropologist Annemarie Mol, I argue that HPV-related screenings are one place where the techniques and technologies used in the enactment of HPV-related diseases as medical objects simultaneously work to enact “ontonorms” (Mol 2012) of sex/gender and sexuality. What is it that screening techniques are visualizing and materializing as marks of a person’s subject position? What kinds of knowledges are circulated with the products of such screening practices, and how do these knowledges (re)shape sociocultural norms and values? Ultimately, I suggest that HPV is enacted through the sexed/gendered and sexualized bodies of patients, and therefore the knowledge produced through screening techniques and technologies is always already shaped by, as well as enacting, sex/gender and sexuality.

Will Robertson is a 3rd year sociocultural anthropology PhD student with a concentration in medical anthropology and a minor in Gender & Women’s Studies. Their research uses HPV and anal dysplasia/cancer as a lens through which to examine the (re)production of gender and sexual norms in biomedical practice. Their theoretical interests include practice theory, biopolitics, and interpretive/symbolic anthropology. Outside of academia, Will spends time with his 3 dogs and watches lots e-sports tournaments.