Private Bodies, Public Texts

Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics

Private Bodies, Public Texts

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: March 2011

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Medicine and Health > Public Health and Health Policy

In Private Bodies, Public Texts, Karla FC Holloway examines instances where medical issues and information that would usually be seen as intimate, private matters are forced into the public sphere. As she demonstrates, the resulting social dramas often play out on the bodies of women and African Americans. Holloway discusses the spectacle of the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case and the injustice of medical researchers’ use of Henrietta Lacks’s cell line without her or her family’s knowledge or permission. She offers a provocative reading of the Tuskegee syphilis study and a haunting account of the ethical dilemmas that confronted physicians, patients, and families when a hospital became a space for dying rather than healing during Hurricane Katrina; even at that dire moment, race mattered. Private Bodies, Public Texts is a compelling call for a cultural bioethics that attends to the historical and social factors that render some populations more vulnerable than others in medical and legal contexts. Holloway proposes literature as a conceptual anchor for discussions of race, gender, bioethics, and the right to privacy. Literary narratives can accommodate thick description, multiple subjectivities, contradiction, and complexity.


Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics is a multi-layered meditation on the field of bioethics, using historical and contemporary case studies from the US.… A mark of the uniqueness of the book is its wide-ranging, artful and diversely sourced writing…. Holloway is a master narrative interpreter and storyteller.” — Carla Lam, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“[A] powerful meditation on how narratives of identity frame and focus how we understand the ethics of birth, life, and death. . . . Holloway’s work stands as a compelling case for why humanities research that is attentive to cultural constructions of gender and race is crucial to real-world applications of legal or bioethical analysis.” — On Campus with Women

Private Bodies, Public Texts is a creative and complicated call to do bioethics differently. . . . Holloway's encyclopedic collection of legal and bioethical cases, melded with captivating fiction and discriminating analyses, make this book nourishing sustenance for anyone who believes that bioethics has a way to go in understanding not only that race and gender matter but also how they matter.” — Charlene Galarneau, Women's Review of Books

“Holloway’s book is undoubtedly a significant achievement, especially in its deep exposition of how racial and gender constructs shape and frame attitudes, practices, and beliefs towards the value of privacy in medicine and science. Scholars using tools drawn from narrative and cultural studies in bioethical inquiry will find in Holloway’s approach a model for the potential of such frameworks to enrich and thicken bioethical analysis and a road map for important and developing modalities in second-generation American bioethics.” — Daniel S. Goldberg, Journal of Medical Humanities

“In her exceptional book, Holloway turns to literature to ‘illustrate matters of ethical concern and to assist listeners in hearing a patient’s story, in order to develop a more thoughtful perspective on treatment.’ . . . Holloway offers incisive comments that relate fictional episodes to real-life events, enhancing the ability of both to reveal the deep connections that bind ethics to culture, race, and gender. Private Bodies, Public Texts invites health professionals, lawyers and ethicists to honor those connections.” — Karunesh Tuli, Foreword Reviews

“The strength of Private Bodies, Public Texts is that it effectively demonstrates how the moral subject of bioethics is universal and impartial only insofar as it assumes the perspective of white, middle-class men.” — Stephanie Jenkins, Signs

‘[Holloway] offers a cultural bioethics that may be able to help us understand and navigate the complex narratives we are co-creating.”
— Brent Winter, News & Observer

“Surveying debates about futuristic biomedical technologies, Private Bodies, Public Texts soberly demands the same urgency in attending to bioethical injustices already playing out upon female and black bodies.” — Everett Hamner, Philological Quarterly

“...Holloway’s Private Bodies, Public Texts, is a tour de force of interdisciplinary analysis...All of Holloway’s disciplinary investments are evident in this book, as she deftly weaves between works of American literature, landmark cases in American legal history, and moments in the history of American medical experimentation to advance her argument.” — José E. Limón, American Literature

Private Bodies, Public Texts is a thought-provoking monograph that should appeal to a wide professional and academic audience. Bioethicists and medical researchers will find the chapters on clinical trials particularly illuminating; medical historians, in turn, will be intrigued by the case studies and application of interdisciplinary methodology.”  — Stephen E. Mawdsley, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

“Providing a provocative and encompassing assessment of the intersection of historical and contemporary institutional (the law, science, medicine and where appropriate, public policy) engagement with vulnerable social groups including women, people of colour, the poor, religious minorities and the disabled, Private Bodies, Public Texts is sweeping yet focused in its scope, masterful in its use of sources, and astute in providing a synthesis that is at all times based on evidence. Private Bodies, Public Texts’ focus on ‘cultural bioethics’ marks it out as a future classic.” — Marsha J. Tyson Darling, Social History of Medicine

Private Bodies/Public Texts is an illuminating meditation on the social construction of personal identity, with special focus on gender and racial categorizations in biomedical ethics. Drawing on diverse sources from medicine, law and literature, Karla FC Holloway shows how devalued gender and racial identities not only set the stage for past biomedical abuses but are ironically replicated in the paradigmatic examples that contemporary bioethics invokes in the supposed service of correcting those abuses. This is a subtle, challenging book.” — Robert A. Burt, Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Law, Yale University

Private Bodies/Public Texts is as powerful as it is beautifully written. Karla FC Holloway’s is a very different kind of bioethics, one that challenges us to think both more broadly and more specifically about what privacy and justice mean. And she reminds us, with sometimes piercing insight, just how critical gender and race can be in making meaning out of both.” — Ruth R. Faden, Director, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics

“Karla FC Holloway has written an important book that challenges the objectification of patients’ stories that is so common in the practice of bioethics. She persuasively argues for a cultural ethics, an ethics which gives constitutive weight to the cultural context of those stories, especially the cultural contexts of race and gender identity. Using this approach, she presents crucial new insights into issues of reproduction, clinical trials, genomics and death and dying. Her discussion of the events at Memorial Medical Center after Katrina will become a classic in the field. But most importantly, she shows us that the practice of bioethics must change if it is to successfully relate to the issues raised by the thick narratives of reality.” — Baruch A. Brody, Baylor College of Medicine


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University, where she also holds appointments in the Law School, Women’s Studies, and African & African American Studies, and is an affiliated faculty with the Institute on Care at the End of Life and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine. She serves on the Greenwall Foundation’s Advisory Board in Bioethics, was recently elected to the Hastings Center Fellows Association, and is the author of many books, including BookMarks: Reading in Black and White; Passed On: African American Mourning Stories: A Memorial, also published by Duke University Press; and Codes of Conduct: Race, Ethics, and the Color of Our Character.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface xv

Acknowledgements xxi

Introduction. The Law of the Body 1

1. Bloodchild 25

2. Cartographies of Desire 67

3. Who's Got the Body? 101

4. Immortality in Cultures 137

Notes 173

Bibliography 199

Index 211
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4917-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4894-8
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