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Ellen Idler Receives CCA Fellowship

Professor Ellen Idler of the Institute and the Department of Sociology received a 2007-2008 fellowship at the Rutgers Center for Cultural Analysis (CCA). This year‘s faculty and graduate students at the CCA will be involved in a Mind and Culture working group to exchange research between the cognitive sciences and the humanities on questions of consciousness, subjectivity, and the mind. The topic is richly interdisciplinary to explore approaches based in philosophy, sociology, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, the literary humanities and history. Dr. Idler’s project focuses on how the health of the body is read and interpreted by the mind. Evidence from US and international epidemiological studies shows that respondents’ self-ratings of health are more precise predictors of mortality and future disability than medical histories, physician ratings, and/or other external, “objective” evaluations of health. These studies dramatically underscore the primacy of subjectivity and the direct perception of the body by the mind. Critical questions arise about “What is this profound thing that people know?” “How do they ‘know it?” “Are the sources of this knowledge directly somatic or based on intra- or inter-individual comparisons or influenced by culture, religion, and social structure?” Lay knowledge is rarely privileged over expert knowledge, especially medical knowledge. Without medical knowledge the lay person has access only to the somatic source of information and the biographical memory to integrate that immediate “feed” of sensation with the body’s memory of physical sensation, illness experiences, and sociocultural context.

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