The Human Insulin Debate: A Case Study of Contested Innovation in Medical Technology

Grant B. Donovan
This thesis describes and analyses a case study of contested innovation in medical technology using actor network theory (ANT). As well as ANT other areas of sociology are drawn upon, such as the public understanding of science, and the sociologies of the body and consumption. The multiple approaches are used in order to develop ANT in novel directions. The particular medical innovation is the introduction and use of human insulin. Human insulin was first prescribed to diabetics in 1981, and
more » ... initially welcomed as a technological innovation that would reduce diabetic complications that are associated with animal insulin. However, as human insulin began to be used, the superiority of human insulin began to be questioned by some diabetics, doctors and care groups. One particular concern was the change in warning signs of approaching hypoglycaemia that were reported by some diabetics. Importantly, there was no agreement within the medical and scientific communities as to whether human insulin did cause negative effects. Data came from different types of documented evidence, including: scientific studies, medical reports, articles published by care groups and letters from diabetics. Aspects of ANT, and certain elaborations of ANT (e.g. the 'network body'), were used to explore this data. Thus, the thesis analyses some of the means by which human insulin was initially constructed as being superior to existing animal insulins, and how, later, actors began to marshal resources in order to redefine the meaning of human insulin. The thesis also describes how diabetics, aided by care groups, were able to have an influence on the insulin species they were to use by stressing the value of their experiential knowledge. Not only this, actors wanting to claim 'facticity' within the human insulin debate had to collectivize texts from both 'lay' and 'scientific' sources.
doi:10.25602/gold.00028909 fatcat:lfxtmnfcy5dpxe423tvr2usmpe