The Pharmaceutical Studies Reader edited by Sergio Sismondo and Jeremy A. Greene

The Blurb On The Back:

The Pharmaceutical Studies Reader is an engaging examination of this new and growing field, bringing together provocative, multidisciplinary articles to look at the interplay of medical science, clinical practice, consumerism, and the healthcare marketplace.  Ranging far beyond the simple discussion of patients, symptoms, and pills, this reader offers important insights into contemporary cultures of health and illness and the social life of pharmaceuticals.

Drawing on anthropological, historical, and sociological research, it delves into the production, circulation, and consumption of pharmaceuticals.  The coverage here is broad and compelling with discussion of topics such as the advent of oral contraceptives, taxonomies of disease, the evolution of prescribing habits, the ethical dimension of pharmaceuticals, clinical trials, and drug production in the age of globalisation.  Placing a strong focus on context, this collection exposes readers to a variety of approaches, ideas, and frameworks and provides them with an appreciation and understanding of the complex roles pharmaceuticals play in society today.  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Sergio Sismondo (a Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at Queen’s University, Canada) and Jeremy A Greene (Chair in the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, USA) have pulled together 17 papers drawing on anthropology, history and sociology to look at the interaction between the pharmaceutical and medical research industries and consumerism in an anthology that’s fascinating and frightening but also very US centric and filled with academic jargon, which makes it quite dense and difficult to get through (indeed, the authors suggest that you dip in and out of it rather than reading it cover to cover).

The book is divided into 5 sections with the editors having cut the original papers down for the purposes of this collection but each paper has extensive notes citing other papers and books that readers can check out if they’re interested in learning more about the subject.


THE PHARMACEUTICALISATION OF SOCIETY? A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS by Simon J Williams, Paul Martin and Jonathan Gabe is a very technical article that analyses the nature and status of pharmaceuticalisation (i.e. the process by which human illnesses and health conditions are transformed into an opportunity for pharmaceutical and medical companies to intervene and form a market), which too be honest I found very difficult to get through.  I suspect that if you already have a good familiarity with the subject to get the most out of it.

PHARMACEUTICAL WITNESSING: DRUGS FOR LIFE IN AN ERA OF DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER ADVERTISING by Joseph Dumit was an interesting read about the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising on the conceptualisation of health and illness by the American public and how the potential for having a medical condition can influence people to talk to their doctor by encouraging self-diagnosis based on general symptoms.


RELEASING THE FLOOD WATERS: DIURIL AND THE RESHAPING OF HYPERTENSION by Jeremy A. Greene is a really interesting article about how the company Merck, Sharp & Dohme marketed Diuril as an anti-hypertensive drug with the marketing campaign converging with the needs of doctors even as it sought to make money from them.  Particularly interesting was the description of the different ways Merck sought to market Diuril to doctors.

DEP®ESSION AND CONSUMPTION: PSYCHOPHARMACEUTICALS, BRANDING, AND NEW IDENTITY PRACTICES by Nathan Greenslit was an interesting but very technical article that focused on Sarafem as marketed to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder as a way of examining identity, the way in which disorders are marketed to the public and how the language surrounding Sarafem is different to that used for Prozac (even though it’s basically the same thing).

BiDil: MEDICATING THE INTERSECTION OF RACE AND HEART FAILURE by Anne Pollock was one of my favourite articles in the collection and is a fascinating look at the marketing of BiDil, the first drug ever approved for use specifically by African-Americans and the divisions that this racialisation created within the African-American and the medical community.  Again, there’s a lot of technical jargon in this article but I didn’t find it difficult to follow the underlying arguments and Pollock makes interesting points about attitudes towards the drug (which ultimately was unsuccessful).

MANUFACTURING DESIRE: THE COMMODIFICATION OF FEMALE SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION by Jennifer R. Fishman was another of my favourites even though it uses very academic language and concepts as it explores the development of pharmaceutical products to treat female sexual dysfunction through the use by drug manufacturers of academic research to develop and legitimise potential markets and the corresponding public awareness of the same.


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT: HOW DRUG REPS MAKE FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE DOCTORS by Adriane Fugh-Berman and Shahram Ahari is a really interesting examination of the techniques used by drug sales reps to get their products into the hands and onto the prescription pads of doctors and how they classify the same.

GETTING TO YES: CORPORATE POWER AND THE CREATION OF A PSYCHOPHARMACEUTICAL BLOCKBUSTER by Kalman Applbaum analyses a drug company’s marketing strategy for the use of a drug beyond its normal market and specifically the way it sets about to address and counter opposition among medical professions and gives you a good insight into how drug marketing works.

PUSHING KNOWLEDGE IN THE DRUG INDUSTRY: GHOST-MANAGED SCIENCE by Sergio Sismondo is a chilling look at how independent medical researchers put their name to research largely carried out by or on behalf of drugs companies in order to increase the legitimacy of potential markets for new products, which really raises questions about connections between academic publications, the regulators and the drugs industry.

TRANSCULTURAL MEDICINE: A MULTI-SITED ETHNOGRAPHY ON THE SCIENTIFIC-INDUSTRIAL NETWORKING OF KOREAN MEDICINE by Jongyoung Kim is one of the few non-US focused articles and is a thought-provoking look at Korean traditional medicine and its attempts to engage with western medicine to increase its credibility and target new markets in the west.


UNCOMMON TRAJECTORIES: STEROID HORMONES, MEXICAN PEASANTS, AND THE SEARCH FOR A WILD YAM by Gabriela Soto Laveaga was another rare foray outside the US by providing a history of the use and development of barbasco in producing early cortisones and specifically the way it impacted on Mexico’s peasant class and assisted in the development of its own medical industry as the demand for the barbasco plant increased.

“READY-TO-RECRUIT” OR “READY-TO-CONSENT” POPULATIONS? INFORMED CONSENT AND THE LIMITS OF SUBJECT AUTONOMY by Jill A. Fisher is a perceptive look at the notion of “informed consent” by examining the strategies that drugs companies use to recruit people for clinical trials, identifying the limitations in US regulations with regards to the same and examining why people volunteer for such trials.  Particularly interesting is her examination of why some people volunteer for trials – some of which comes down to needing money or needing to be able to fund treatment for their conditions, which raises disturbing failures in the US medical system.

CLINICAL TRIALS OFFSHORED: ON PRIVATE SECTOR SCIENCE AND PUBLIC HEALTH by Adriana Petryna examines how clinical trials have been increasingly offshored to eastern European countries not just because of cost but because the populations typically have low access to drugs, which means that there’s less chance of side effects from trials and better quality test results and the shortfalls and risks associated with using such a model.

THE EXPERIMENTAL MACHINERY OF GLOBAL CLINICAL TRIALS: CASE STUDIES FROM INDIA by Kaushik Sunder Rajan looks at India’s attempts to market itself as a clinical trials site for western companies by examining the regulatory structure and the ethical questions that it raises, especially with regards to the need to make drugs companies release drugs in India for wider purposes.


INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND PUBLIC HEALTH: COPYING OF HIV/AIDS DRUGS BY BRAZILIAN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE PHARMACEUTICAL LABORATORIES by Maurice Cassier and Mailena Correa is an examination of the use of public and private laboratories in developing its own antiretroviral products to treat HIV/AIDS and the disputes this created for existing patent holders together with the challenges it poses to the traditional argument that patents protect and promote innovation as generic manufacturers file their own patents for their own discoveries.

GLOBAL PHARMACEUTICAL MARKETS AND CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP: THE CASE OF NOVARTIS’ ANTI-CANCER DRUG GLIVEC by Stefan Ecks focuses on a lawsuit brought by Novartis in India against the government over generic copying of its drug Glivec, the backlash that Novartis faced in relation to the same and how it sought to come back from the bad publicity through moves including making the drug available for free in a bid to reframe the conversation in its own favour.

GENERIC MEDICINES AND THE QUESTION OF THE SIMILAR by Cori Hayden was, for me, the best article in the collection as it looks at the fast-growing generics pharmaceutical discount stores and the irony of how the fight they took to patent holders has rebounded on them as new competitors threatens their own market share, leading them to seek intellectual property protection themselves.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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