A Postmodernist Perspective: The Clinical Gaze
In 71,( Birth of the Clinic (1994/196J), postmodern theorist Michel Foucault questioned existing assumptions about medical knowledge and the power that doctors have gained over othcrjnedical personnel andeveryday people. Foucault-asserted that truth in.medicine- as in all other-ar;as of lire-is a social construction, n this instance: one that doctors have created. foucault believed that doctors gain power through the clinical (or "observing") gQZC. which they use to gather information. Doctors develop the clinical gaze through their observation of patients; as the doctors begin 10 diagnose and treat medical conditions. they also start o speak "wisely" about everything . .As a result. other people start to believe that doctors can "penetrate illusion and see ... the hidden truth" (Shawver, 1998).
According to Foucault, the prestige of the medical establishment was iurther enhanced when it became possible to categorize all illnesses within a definitive network of disease classification under which physicians can claim that they know why patients are sick. Moreover, the invention of new tests made it necessary for physicians to gaze upon the naked body, to listen to the human heart with an instrument. and to run tests on the patients body tluids. Patients who objected were criticized hy the doctors for their "false modesty" and "excessive restraint" (Foucault, 1994/1963: 163). As the new rules allowed for the patient to be touched and prodded. the myth of the doctor's diagnostic wisdom was further enhanced, and "medical gestures, words, gazes took on a philosophical density that had formerly belonged only to mathematical thought" (Poucault, 1994/1963: 199). For Foucault, the formation of clinical medicine was merely one of the more-visible
ways in which the fundamental structures of humanhuman experience have changed throughout history. Foucault's work provides new insights on mcdi cal dominance, hut it has been criticized for its lack of attention to alternative viewpoints. Among these is the possibility that medical breakthroughs and newtechnologies actually help physicians become wiser and more scientific in their endeavors. Another criticism is that Foucault's approach is basedl upon the false
assumption that people are passive individuals who simply comply with doctors' orders-he docs not take into account that people (either consciously or unconsciuusly) may resist the myth t,f the "wise doctor" and not follow "doctors' orders" (Lupton, 1997). Fuucault's analysis (1988/1961) was not limited to doctors who treat bodily illness, he also critiqued psychiatrists and the treatment of insanity. -: The Concept Quick Review summarizes the major sociological perspectives on health and medicine.