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Message posted on 10/05/2021

CFP AAA 2021: Anthropology and Knowledge Production in Rare Diseases

Apologies for cross-posting

CFP American Anthropological Association 2021 Annual Meeting, Baltimore, November 17-21, 2021

Session title: Anthropology and Knowledge Production in Rare Diseases

Organizers: Malgorzata Rajtar (Institute of Philosophy & Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences) & Eva-Maria Knoll (Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Session abstract

Diversly defined and individually dispersed, rare diseases affect large numbers of people in total; approx. 25-30 million and 30 million inhabitants in the US and the EU respectively are considered to live with a rare disease. Although a growing number of rare diseases have been detected by newborn screening programs, the path to diagnosis for thousands of others is often long and arduous. In the process of diagnosis, rare diseases are often likened to zebras that are infrequently discovered by physicians expecting more common diseases: horses. Due to the small number of individuals living with a given rare disease, randomized controlled trails and the standard "evidence-based" approach to medicine more generally may not be available and/or fail to provide conclusive evidence on rare disease treatment modalities and orphan drugs. Anthropological critique of evidence-based medicine's hegemony in "making authoritative knowledge claims in biomedicine" (Colvin 2015; Adams 2013) seems to apply to rare disorders in particular.

Inspired by the 2021 AAA Annual Meeting theme "Truth and Responsibility," in this session, we seek papers that address the production of knowledge and legitimacy in rare diseases. We are asking what kind of knowledge is being produced? By whom? For what purposes? How? Who is challenging this knowledge, its mode of production, and its claim to relevance? Who is producing alternative truths and how are they doing this? What is the relationship between biomedical, genetic, technological, patient advocacy, and anthropological modes of knowledge production in the case of rare diseases? What is the role of anthropologists and other social scientists in the (co-)production of or in challenging such knowledge and its legitimization? Finally, in what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced knowledge production, dissemination, implementation, and/or power inequalities in the field of rare conditions?

We encourage ethnographically grounded and theoretically inspired papers that examine these issues while acknowledging the heterogenous, constructed, and situated nature of medical knowledge (Burri and Dumit 2008) and daily practices in rare diseases.

Please send a 250-word paper proposal to Eva ( and Malgorzata ( by 18 May. Deadline for General Call for Paper submissions in the AAA portal: May 26, 2021.

-- Dr hab. Małgorzata Rajtar Prof. IFiS/ Associate Professor Instytut Filozofii i Socjologii PAN/ Institute of Philosophy & Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences Osrodek Badan Spolecznych nad Chorobami Rzadkimi/Rare Disease Social Research Center

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