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Isabelle Baszanger

Sociologist, emerita research director CNRS

Contact : isabelle.baszanger(at)



The general theme of her research explores medical work at the limits of scientific and medical knowledge, therapeutic possibilities and the human condition (pain, suffering, the life-death boundary). In this work at the limits, new forms of clinical practice are invented, with new forms of collaboration among professionals and between them and patients, as well as new forms of medical management of incurability. In this process new subjectivities emerge.

These limits challenge some of the conventional concepts and tools that structure medical practice: objectivity, regulation of practices and emotions, cures, palliation and chronicity. It is also a point at which new relationships between medicine and society are developed.

In an earlier book (Inventing Pain Medicine. From the Laboratory to the Clinic) she explored how medicine has worked to push back the limits of pain through the development a new speciality : pain medicine. Her current research has focused on analyzing the transformation of the medical work made by an ever growing number of actors (including patients, who, it should be remembered, are also actors in medical work) when evidence-based medicine can no longer shape medical work and decision-making has to become more open. Her work aims at illuminating how doctors and patients cope with situations when the possibilities for therapeutic action are narrowing and the end of life is near,

Her work draws on a multi-sites ethnography of the everyday work of clinical oncologists and palliative physicians in highly specialized academic hospitals, and the historical analysis of the most recent evolution of chemotherapy and end-of-life management. 

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