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Figures of Medicine

François Delaporte | Translated by Linda Coverdale | February 25, 2013

What does the infamous face transplant in France in 2005 share with the examination of “swollen faces” in Latin America in the 1930s? What does blood transfusion in Europe during the 17th century have in common with the discovery of mosquitoes as parasitic vectors in China at the close of the 19th century? And, last, how does the reconstruction of noses using skin flaps in Bologna in the 16th century relate to the opening of a forehead cyst in Guatemala in 1916?

The six essays that form Figures of Medicine present a wealth of symmetries. François Delaporte shows that each epistemological concern demands its own mode of engagement; problems reside not only in their objects but also in the historical situations in which they emerge. Focusing on efforts to resolve medical problems that are particular and nonetheless exemplary, Delaporte unpacks these separate cases to show how multiple actors—over long periods of time and across different geographies—must be taken into account to remove epistemological blockages that stand in the way of understanding. A remarkable contribution to the history of science and medicine, this book shows the value of historical epistemology from philosophical, historical, and anthropological perspectives.

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