98.6: Fevers, Fertility, & the Patient Labor of American Medicine

Doctoral Dissertation:
98.6: Fevers, Fertility, and the Patient Labor of American Medicine [Full Text PDF]
History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania


My dissertation uses the history of the consumer medical thermometer to uncover a previously unexamined history of patient labor, showing how American women have been enrolled in the process of performing technological medical work with profound epistemological and political consequences. Despite the rhetoric of the patient as consumer that has pervaded popular and scholarly discourse in the twentieth century, my principal actors — women who use temperature tracking to care for their children and to chart their fertility — engaged in rigorous medical work. I explore how women have contributed to scientific discoveries surrounding ovulation, how they integrated nineteenth-century ideas of environmental health and the body with modern scientific notions, and how their labor has refashioned their subjectivity. Through doing this work, female temperature trackers have accepted responsibility for a particular kind of regimented and predictable bodily functioning, as well as blame for its failure. In so doing, they have prefigured a mode of neoliberal bodily management that is coming to define medical care in the early twenty-first century.