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For at least a couple of decades before Starling first used the word hormone in a 1905 lecture to the Royal Society in London, experts knew that a chemical substance enabled the organs to communicate with each other to enable processes likedigestionandrespiration.However,theydidnothaveagoodtermtodescribe these substances; they used vague words like chemical messenger and internal secretion. None of these words was powerful enough to win the argument, so the experts went back and forth, quibbling over how to interpret the same old evidence . The term hormone was a game-changer. The chemical substances that the new word named had been known to scientists for a long time. But when they finally had a word that they could agree on, the science moved forward after decades of standstill. By 1915, endocrinology had become established, and this field continued to experience rapid growth for many years after that. Thus, one of the stories told in this book is about the founding of an entirely new medical field—endocrinology—and of a physician who became famous because of the rhetorical movement that he was able to effect after those decades of standstill. The science that Starling reported in his 1905 lecture was not very new at all, but because he used the term hormone for the first time, he changed the world. And he is remembered in the history of medicine as the person who discovered hormones, even though many scientists before him labored for years in their laboratories to understand the internal mechanisms of communication that enabled bodily functions such as respiration, digestion, and reproduction. As compelling as this story of Starling’s rhetorical accomplishment might be, it is only one small part of the larger narrative that has been told in this book: the centuries-long narrative of a shift from the hysterical woman to the hormonal woman as the primary metaphor that we used to explain almost everything that could go wrong with women’s physical or mental health. The belief in hysteria, which has a history that spans the centuries, was based on wild imaginings about the behavior of the womb deep inside a woman’s body, whereas the From Hysteria to Hormones 8 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 185 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 185 1/15/18 4:41 PM 1/15/18 4:41 PM 186 from hysteria to hormones relatively new belief in hormones is based on scientifically verified chemical substances with resulting behaviors and systemic effects that can be measured, documented, and replicated in the laboratory. The short version of this story is that science has gradually come to replace mysticism and religious beliefs as the basis for understanding women’s bodies and women’s health. As I have argued,however,the transition from a hysterical-woman metaphor to a hormonal-woman metaphor has been far less absolute than previous approaches to the history of medicine might lead us to expect. This continual process, in which new terms and concepts have gradually morphed from older terms and concepts, offers us new ways to comprehend the rhetoric of science as a form of movement that is characterized by anything but a progression along a straight timeline. The forms of movement that are evident in the scientific rhetorics that I have analyzed in this book are best characterized as folding, fluxing, morphing, and twisting. Thus, through close examination of the scienti fic and popular texts that facilitate these forms of movement, we can see how a concept such as hormones never really breaks from its history but, instead, comes to encapsulate key ideas from that history, reshaping these concepts in ways that fit the demands of ever-changing rhetorical contexts. This highlights a fundamentally conservative element of the scientific endeavor, suggesting that one of the reasons why new ideas emerge is to preserve old ways of thinking— to make those old ideas acceptable to new audiences—not only to effect a clean break from the past. Perhaps it is not coincidental that much of the energy of medical experts during the many centuries that this book covers has been devoted to figuring out how and why the womb refused to stay put inside women’s bodies. It is almost as if this entity inside women that has been depicted as unpredictable and hard to tame—sometimes even referred to in the ancient texts as a wild animal—mimicked the kind of topological movement of scientific thought that I have tried to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780271081571
Related ISBN
9780271080857
MARC Record
OCLC
1032611994
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-05
Language
English
Open Access
No
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