The Cancer-Industrial Complex: Biology, Medicine, and Business
In today’s age, most of us have encountered cancer in some shape or form. Its near omni-presence manifests in punctuated bursts in our daily lives: a loved one feels a lump in their breast; a neighbor organizes a GoFundME for their relative’s treatment; an athlete dons pink equipment; days are marked for remembrance or the celebration of survivorship. But, beneath the social fabric lies a political economy—the cancer-industrial complex—that dictates how cancer is understood and treated. More than a half century after its declaration, and despite the billions of research and treatment dollars spent, the “War on Cancer” appears lost, as prominent cancer researchers have recently admitted. What are the impediments to “curing” cancer? Is it a lack of scientific knowledge, a technical incapacity? Or does the contemporary political economy of cancer somehow systematically distort what might otherwise be a more efficacious system of intervention?
In this course, students will examine the cancer-industrial complex, a nexus of public health, scientific research, and the power and interests of capital. We’ll explore how each facet conditions the others—with apparently suboptimal results for the ultimate project of curing cancer. Charting the phenomenon of cancer from the cellular to the social, we will read works across a range of disciplines, from empirical cancer research to social science studies to works of history and philosophy. And we will ask, throughout: Why are cancer treatment costs so high? Does early detection save lives? Why is there no cure for cancer? Who does our current understanding of cancer benefit? And lastly, how do we begin to dismantle the cancer-industrial complex? Readings will include scientific articles and reviews from cancer researchers such as Robert Weinberg, William Kaelin, Vinay Prasad, Hagop Kantarjian, Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein, as well as selections from books by Siddhartha Mukherjee, Devra Davis, S. Lochlann Jain, Robin Wolfe Scheffler, Georges Canguilhem, and Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, among others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 12 — August 02, 2022