Special Forum on Diagnosing Migrant Experience: Medical Humanities and Transnational American Studies

Davina Höll's picture

This special forum of the Journal of Transnational American Studies explores how Transnational American Studies and Medical Humanities can be mutually complementary. At their core, both disciplines work on, with, and beyond phenomena of multiple crossings of geographic, cultural, linguistic, epistemological, material, and physical borders.In doing so Transnational American Studies and Medical Humanities perpetually transgress their disciplinary borders. Hence, this special issue focuses on the crossroads of the two disciplines where each of these can fruitfully enhance the other.

In Medical Humanities approaches such as Narrative Medicine, the focus has been on the individual illness experience; migration-related questions such as racialization or trauma have only recently been coming to the fore. Here, migration is inextricably linked to questions of social justice. Seen from this perspective, Medical Humanities have been enriched through the perspective on migration studies. Similarly, issues of migration have also loomed large in Transnational American Studies. Work in this field has stressed the ways in which, through migrants’ perspectives, the US nation-state was seen from the outside and the inside simultaneously. At the same time, migrant experience has often been characterized by processes of racialized exclusion, economic poverty, and personal and collective trauma. These latter concerns have also centrally been investigated by the field of Medical Humanities. The current Covid-19 pandemic has once again shown that, in epidemiological terms, national boundaries cannot be policed. More than ever, there is a need for concepts and methodologies which enable us to think the medical and the transnational at one and the same time and ask for the role of literature and art within this process.

This special forum proposes that Transnational American Studies and Medical Humanities may fruitfully converge in reconfiguring different concepts of life. Through the lens of Transnational American Studies, this forum looks at how lives have been excluded by immigration bans and national border policing. In this context, Transnational American Studies emerges as a framework to make these lives visible by mapping them not only in a literal, but also in a figurative sense. Moreover, these border crossings often come at a price for those who cross the line in both a metaphorical and an actual sense: Migration and cultural invisibility can be accompanied by trauma and displacement. In this context, exhibitions and artworks on undocumented migration have emphasized the ways in which art and performance can go beyond narrative depictions of the traumas that can accompany forced migration and undocumented lives. At the intersection between migration and trauma, the borders that are being crossed are both land borders and waterways.

The experience of migration can also, quite literally, be combined with a lack of access to health care especially for undocumented migrants and unaccompanied minors. Seen from this perspective, migrant lives are in a form of double jeopardy as dramatically demonstrated, e.g., by the current distribution crisis of Covid-19 vaccines. In this context, literary narratives––novels, poems, short stories, biographies, and autobiographies––emerge as an alternative form of representation: First, they may resist both national policies of exclusion by literally writing migrant lives into the script of the nation. Second, they may defy a mere focus on medical diagnosis, especially where this diagnosis is divorced from cultural context. Defying these categories, these narratives may revolve around “unruly” subjects who refuse to be contained.

Linking illness, mental health, and trauma, such representations can also serve as a critique of health care systems. Nation-states can draw a line between those who are eligible for health care and those who are seen as “undeserving” of such care. Recent investigation as well as historical research has revealed that medical care and adequate nutrition can be withheld by state institutions. As forms of medical negligence or health injustice, such practices have been documented regarding residential schools for Native American children as well as vis-à-vis inmates of state prisons. In all these different contexts, Medical Humanities are closely connected to considerations of social justice and health equity. Instances of an absence of medical care, in turn, can be tied to the crossing of national or internal borders with which Transnational American Studies has also been concerned.

For this special forum, we seek contributions that explore the intricate connections between medical and migrant experiences and their cultural impact in past and present, such as

- Migration and mental health/trauma

- Migration and somatic manifestations

- Migration and challenges for health care systems

- Migration of medical knowledge

- Migration of medical professionals

- Migration and narrative medicine

- Migration and epi-/pandemics

- Migration and disability

- Migration and age

- Migration and global health/one health

- Migration and medical ethics

Please submit a 250-word abstract by Novemer 1, 2021. The editors will review abstracts and invite full-length essays of 5,000–8,000 words. Please email abstracts and questions to Prof. Dr. Mita Banerjee (mita.banerjee@uni-mainz.de) and Dr. Davina Höll (davina.hoell@uni-tuebingen.de).

See also: https://escholarship.org/uc/acgcc_jtas/call