Anatomy Education and the Observational-Embodied Look

Medicine Studies 2 (1):49-69 (2010)
Based on observations and interviews collected during a yearlong ethnography of two anatomy laboratory courses (an undergraduate and medical/dental course) at a large Midwestern university, this article argues that students learn anatomy through the formation of an observational-embodied look. All of the visual texts and material objects of the lab—from atlas illustrations, to photographs, to 3D models, to human bodies—are involved in this look that takes the form of anatomical demonstration and dissection. The student of anatomy, then, brings together observation (the act of looking), visual evidence (what one sees in the body), haptic experience (the act of touching), and anatomical-medical knowledge (what one labels the body) to identity as anatomy those objects on display. Through an interrogation of and reflection on the bodies of the course, the participants must learn to recognize and appreciate the descriptive and relational values of anatomical evidence, and in the process develop the habitus of anatomists. Drawing from the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Pierre Bourdieu, and Herbert Dreyfus, the author seeks to both uncover how students learn anatomy as well as articulate a theory of embodied learning.
Keywords Anatomy education  Embodiment  Embodied learning  Habitus  Medical vision
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