"Where Every Prospect Pleases and Only Man Is Vile": Laboratory Medicine as Colonial Discourse

Critical Inquiry 18 (3):506-529 (1992)

Abstract
My concern here is with the way a new American medical discourse in the Philippines fabricated and rationalized images of the bodies of the colonized and the subordinate colonizers. I am interested in reading the reports of biological experiments as discursive constructions of the American colonial project, as attempts to naturalize the power of foreign bodies to appropriate and command the Islands. The origin of the American colonial enterprise at a time when science lent novel force and legitimacy to public policy gave scientists and doctors an opportunity to construct a new physiology and pathology of colonialism. The medical laboratory thus became an important site for the construction of the social space of interaction between American and Filipino bodies.5 The Filipino emerged in this period as a potentially dangerous part of the zoological realm, while the American colonizer became a resilient racial type, no longer inevitably susceptible to the tropical climate but vulnerable to the crowd of invisible, alien parasites newly associated with native bodies. This new medical discourse in the tropics accorded with a broad shift in the language and practices of medical science that occurred at the end of the nineteenth century. Generally, the medical concern with constitutions and climate gave way to a greater interest in the specific microbial causation of individual disease. At the same time, the colonial doctor’s anecdotes and clinical impressions seemed less convincing, and increasingly the laboratory was called on to authenticate knowledge. Warwick Anderson is a medical doctor who is completing his doctorate in the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania. His current project is the politics of disease theory in southeastern Asia
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DOI 10.1086/448643
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