David J. Hess

Science and Publics:
Work on Health and Religion

This page lists my two early career projects: research on health and religion in Brazil, with a focus on the public understanding of science in the Spiritist movement; and research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches to cancer in the U.S.

CAM Cancer Therapies in the U.S.

Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing through 2006, I studied the science and politics in alternative health movements. In the mid 1990s, with support from the Ethics and Values program of the National Science Foundation, I interviewed clinicians, researchers, and advocacy leaders on the public understanding of science and the politics of complementary and alternative cancer therapies in the U.S. (Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies, Rutgers U. Press). Also with support from the same grant, Margaret Wooddell, a doctoral student in Rensselaer's program, and I interviewed a group of women who have demonstrated leadership in the movement for greater choice and complementary/alternative therapies for cancer (Women Confront Cancer, NYU Press). This body of work combines long-term ethnographic and archival research on complementary and alternative cancer therapies with policy analysis. It formed the basis for my subsequent work on mobilized publics, policy, and expertise. The 2013 paper (below) updates some of my previous work on CAM and connects it with the study of mobilized counterpublics

I also wrote a historical analysis of the lost research tradition on bacterial vaccines and cancer (Can Bacteria Cause Cancer?). This book represented an attempt to develop an integrated method for the study of science, technology, and society (STS), which included a historical analysis of the lost research tradition and undone science, a sociological and historical explanation of the reasons why the tradition was lost, an evaluation of the scientific merits of the lost tradition, and a discussion of the policy implications. Thus, the first two parts represented a descriptive and explanatory approach in the tradition of history, anthropology, and sociology, whereas the last two parts drew on the normative tradition in STS that included policy evaluation.

Most of my current research is on environmental issues, but some of it includes health and environmental work. For example, I have studied health dimensions of the politics and policies of smart meters, nanotechnology, and the greening of bus fleets. These papers are listed on the page "Science, Industry, and Publics: General." At Vanderbilt, I now teach a course on the "sociology of health and environmental science," which applies basic concepts in the sociology of science to a range of environmental health and biomedical controversies.

Research on Cancer and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

2013 "Beyond Scientific Consensus: Scientific Counterpublics, Countervailing Industries, and Competing Research Agendas." Paper here. Forthcoming in Wilhelm Viehover and Peter Wehling, eds. The Public Shaping of Medical Research: Patient Associations, Health Movements, and Biomedicine. Routledge. The paper reviews some of the more recent developments in the CAM cancer therapy field and applies the conceptual framework that I have been developing involving counterpublics and undone science. It was originally presented in 2012 at a conference on health social movements in Augsburg, Germany.

2012 "Notes on the Relations between CAM and the Social Sciences." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 26(2): 283-286. Final draft of the paper here.This is an invited commentary on a paper in the same issue by Hans Baer.

2006 "Angiogenesis Research and the Dynamics of Research Fields: Historical and Institutional Perspectives in the Sociology of Science." In Scott Frickel and Kelly Moore, The New Political Sociology of Science. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. Article here.

2005 "Complementary and Alternative Medicine." In Sal Restivo, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Society. Pp. 67-72. Oxford University Press.

2005 "Cancer." In Carl Mitcham, ed., Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA . Vol. 1: 285-288.  Abstract here.

2005 "Complementary and Alternative Medicine." In Carl Mitcham, ed., Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics.. D etroit : Macmillan Reference USA . Vol. 1: 384-387. Abstract here.

2004 "CAM Cancer Therapies in Twentieth-Century North America: Examining Continuities and Change." In Robert Johnston (ed.), The Politics of Healing. Routledge. Article here.

2004 "Medical Modernization, Scientific Research Fields, and the Epistemic Politics of Health Social Movements." Sociology of Health and Illness 26(6): 695-709. .Article here. Also available from Wiley online: article here.

2003 "Technology, Medicine, and Modernity." In Arie Rip, Philip Brey, and Tom Misa, Technology and Modernity. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press.

2002 "Complementary or Alternative? Strong versus Weak Integration Policies." American Journal of Public Health 92(10): 1579-1581.Article here.

2002 "The Raw and the Organic: Politics of Therapeutic Cancer Diets in the U.S." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Special issue edited by Helen Sheehan and Barrett Brenton on "Global Perspectives on Complementary and Alternative Medicine." Vol. 582 (Sept.): 76-97. PDF file of the article here; link to American Academy of Political and Social Science here.

2002 “Stronger Versus Weaker Integration Policies.” American Journal of Public Health 92(10): 12-14.

2000 "Patients, Science, and Alternative Cancer Therapies." In Preventing Cancer in North America, edited by Diane Wiener. Greenwood Press. Paper here.

1999 Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies: A Guide to the Science and Politics of an Emerging Medical Field. Edited collection of interviews. Rutgers University Press.

1999 "Suppression, Bias, and Selection in Science: The Case of Cancer Research." Accountability in Research 6: 245-257. Article here.

1998 Women Confront Cancer: Making Medical History by Choosing Alternative and Complementary Therapies. Collection of interviews, coedited with Margaret Wooddell. New York University Press.

1997 Can Bacteria Cause Cancer? New York University Press.

1996 "Technology and Alternative Cancer Therapies." Medical Anthropology Quarterly 10(4): 657-74. Paper here.


Religion and the Public Understanding of Science

My earliest work is also concerned with public understandings of science and knowledge; however, my method and voice were much more that of a cultural anthropologist than they were in my later work. I was influenced by the methods of cultural analysis taught by my mentors Boon, DaMatta, and Holmberg, as well as the comparativist and structuralist literature on Brazil that my committee member Tom Holloway led me through. A common ground was the use of comparative analyis, to which I continue to return.

Th central finding was that a very heterodox research field in North America and Europe--parapsychology and its earlier version, psychical research--served to legitimate positions in the religious-psychotherapeutic field among Catholic intellectuals, the medical community, and Spiritists in Brazil. Furthermore, I found that Jesuit critics of Spiritism drew on parapsychology, whereas Spiritists tended to turn to the older field of psychical research. This was one of the first, full ethnographic monographs in the anthropology of science and especially on the intersections of science, medicine, and public understandings. Although I did not explicitly use the term "field," I used the simliar concept of an "arena" and was influenced by Bourdieu, whom I read first in Portuguese in Brazil, and by Brazliian scholars influenced by him, such as Carlos Rodrigues Branda-o. In effect I was studying the role of science in negotiating field position at the intersections of the religious and medical fields. Many Spiritist intellectuals were also medical professionals, and many of the country's first psychiatric hospitals were founded by Spiritists. I experienced some fascinating events, such as psychotherapy provided by Spiritists through spirit mediums in centers located near a psychiatric hospital, for which the mentally ill were believed to be afflicted by Earth-bound spirits. I also witnessed surgical operations by Edson Queiroz by one of the lineage of his spirit mediums. [For non-specialist readers, I adopt the neutral device of analyzing beliefs in spirits as social facts that have social effects regardless of what one thinks about their reality.]

On returning to the U.S., I had a new perspective on similar science-religion relations in the New Age movement, and I wrote Science in the New Age, which analyzed the New Age movemnt and gender politics, American cultural repertoires such as the frontier, and relations with skeptics. DaMatta and I also also developed book in the comparativist tradition of Brazilian studies, The Brazilian Puzzle. After that, I decided that issues of science and religion were very marginal in the Science and Technology Studies field that I was joining, and as a result I turned to topical problems that were more mainstream. However, the use of comparative and cultural methods (the latter in the sense of understanding problems first from the perspective of publics and informants) and the thematic concerns with knowledge, technologies, publics, and movements is continuous with many of my subsequent projects.

Selected Publications

2000 "Medical Integration and Questions of Universalism." [Portuguese] In Laura Graziela Gomes, ed. Twentieth Anniversary Commemoration of Carnavais, Malandros, e Heróis. Rio de Janeiro: Editora da Fundação Getúlio Vargas. This paper connects my work on Spiritism and religious therapies with the second project on complementary and alternative medicine. Paper available here.

1995 The Brazilian Puzzle: Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World. Coedited with Roberto DaMatta. Columbia University Press. Introduction, Conclusions, and "Hierarchy, Hegemony, and the Construction of Brazilian Religious Therapies" by Hess. Theoretically, an attempt to bridge hierarchy and hegemony (culturalist and social structural approaches) in the study of the religious system in Brazil. Paper available here.

1995 "Preface." Magico-Religious Healers of Brazil, by Nagato Azuma and Patric Giesler. Tokyo: Arechi-Syuppansha Inc.

1994 Samba in the Night: Spiritism in Brazil. Fieldwork account. Columbia University Press.

1993 Science in the New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders and Debunkers, and American Culture. University of Wisconsin Press. Chinese translation: Jiangxi Education Press, 1998. Chapter 7 (Theoretical Conclusions) here. Google Scholar Preview here.

1992 "New Sciences, New Gods: Spiritism and Questions of Religious Pluralism in Latin America." Occasional Papers of the Thomas J. Watson Institute for International Studies, "Conference on Competing Gods: Religious Pluralism in Latin America." Brown University. A paper that questioned the current view of some scholars that Latin American was becoming Protestant by discussing the continued vitality of spirit mediumship religions. Paper available here.

1992 Knowledge and Society Volume 9: The Anthropology of Science and Technology. Coedited with Linda Layne; series editor Arie Rip. JAI Press. Article by Hess:"Disciplining Heterodoxy, Circumventing Discipline: Parapsychology, Anthropologically." Link to PDF file here. Link to Elsevier press here.

1992 "Umbanda and Quimbanda Magic in Brazil: Rethinking Aspects of Bastide's Work." Archives des Sciences Sociales des Religions. 79: 139-53. A structuralist analysis of Umbanda and Quimbanda rituals with the theoretical argument that Bastide over-estimated “religious degredation” of African religion in his studies of Umbanda. Paper available here.

1991 Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture. Pennsylvania State University Press. Introduction available here. Google Scholar Preview here.

1991 "On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Reading Spiritist Otherworldly Ethnographies." In Roberto Reis (ed.), Toward Socio-Criticism: Selected Proceedings of the Conference "Luso-Brazilian Literatures, A Socio-Critical Approach." Arizona State University at Tempe, Center for Latin American Studies. This paper showed how Spiritist and American descriptions of the spirit world showed important cultural differences related to this-worldly Brazil and the U.S. Paper available here.

1990 "Ghosts and Domestic Politics in Brazil: Some Parallels between Spirit Infestation and Spirit Possession." Ethos: Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology 18(4): 407-38. This was the first paper to link "poltergeists" and spirit "attacks" to domestic violence. Paper available here.

1989 "Disobsessing Disobsession: Religion, Ritual, and Social Science in Brazil." Cultural Anthropology 4(2): 182-193. Early version of chapter in Spirits and Scientists. This paper argued that positions among social scientists Spiritism among social scientists in Brazil had homologies with positions in the religious field. Paper available here.

1987 "O Espiritismo e as Ciências [Spiritism and the Sciences]." Religião e Sociedade 14(3): 40-54. Early version of chapter in Spirits and Scientists.

1987 "The Many Rooms of Brazilian Spiritism." Luso-Brazilian Review 24.2: 15-34.

1987 "Religion, Heterodox Science, and Brazilian Culture." Social Studies of Science 17: 465-477. Portions appeared in Spirits and Scientists. Paper available here.