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Dr Caitjan Gainty - ‘Healthy Skepticism’

Though health sceptics of one kind or another have been around for centuries, the pandemic has made them newly visible. Initially, it was mask-abstainers and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists who grabbed headlines. These later ceded space to the vaccine hesitant who, sceptics of these sceptics say, threatened to stall out our effort to bring the pandemic to an end. Despite their best efforts, the pandemic instead ‘ended’ in the UK when Boris Johnson said it did, peeling back the veneer of logical and science-based decision-making to reveal what sceptics of past generations regarded as evidence of medicine’s bureaucratic - perhaps even autocratic – inheritances.

Though the interests of this project lie more fundamentally in the past, the new attention to scepticism about health and healthcare that the pandemic has added new stakes to considering what a historical study of scepticism might have to offer, both. Methodologically – what happens when we do take sceptics of all stripes seriously – and substantively – where does the history of sceptical push-back against health care lead us – the project then seeks to trace a chronology that stretches from the early 20th-century dissenters of medical orthodoxy, to the critical, anti-establishment voices of mid-century, and up to our current crisis. Listening to the voices of medicine’s critics, its doubters, its dispossessed, its antagonists means taking seriously their complaints, offering another way to tell the fraught 20th century history of healthcare.

In this discussion, I introduce the project, both some of its historical figures and the more contemporary work undertaken with a community organisation in Brixton and talk through some of its attendant difficulties. Though two years in, the project remains in a way still a chrysalis, and so questions about how best – and where and why and with whom – to take it forward remain as yet undetermined.


About the speaker

Dr Caitjan Gainty is Senior Lecturer in the History of Science, Technology & Medicine in the Department of History at King’s College London. She is a historian of twentieth century health and healthcare. After a brief stint in the world of public health research, she received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2012 and joined the staff at King’s in 2013. Caitjan co-runs the Healthy Scepticism project, which examines the work of past and present medical critics and sceptics, activists and reformers, and those dispossessed and disenfranchised by mainstream medicine and uses these findings toward healthcare reform now. With her project co-founder Agnes Arnold-Forster, she is frequently called upon to commentate on contemporary healthcare issues, in the US and UK especially. Caitjan has also worked extensively on medical films and filmmaking, on early 20th century American healthcare, on industrial production and the history of technology, and on the history of medical therapeutics (and alternative & complementary therapies). Her research interests include the history of health and healthcare in the US & UK, medical material culture, bioethics and Health Law, health scepticism, activism, and hesitancy in 20th c, and global healthcare systems. She is the author of several publications in the field of medical humanities and the history of medicine, and has a forthcoming book in preparation titled The Product of Medicine, to be published by Duke University Press.

At this event

Caitjan Gainty

Senior Lecturer in the History of Science, Technology & Medicine

Event details

Virginia Woolf Building
22 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6NR