Ericka Johnson

Gendering Drugs

Feminist Studies of Pharmaceuticals

Palgrave Macmillan 2017

New Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network February 24, 2017 Taylor Fox-Smith

On the frontier of feminist technoscience research, Ericka Johnson’s collaborative project Gendering Drugs: Feminist Studies of Pharmaceuticals (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) explores how the gendered...

On the frontier of feminist technoscience research, Ericka Johnson’s collaborative project Gendering Drugs: Feminist Studies of Pharmaceuticals (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) explores how the gendered body is produced in and by medical technologies. From an Alzheimers disease study that relied on the process of sexing flies, to the pharamceuticalized prostate, to the medical experiences of transgender children, Part 1 uses the body as subject to disrupt the binaries of male/female, human/non-human and healthy/unhealthy. In Part 2, titled Creating Subjectivities for Patients in Advertising, the book expands its analysis to the commercial images and discourses used in marketing and prescribing relational subjectivities. Observing the way pharmaceuticals insert themselves into familial and romantic relationships, the HPV vaccine is used as an example of drugs as non-human participants in the parent-child partnership. Through an international lens, Part 3 provides three comparative case studies of the way that knowledge about HPV is produced in Columbia, the U.K. and Austria.

In perhaps the most poignant contribution to feminist research agendas, across disciplines, Johnson concludes our interview by explaining her unique metaphor of refraction. Noting the notorious difficulty of seeing and articulating discursive power structures, Johnson recognises that the ability to articulate what is being said to us or about us, and identifying who is doing that saying, is a cornerstone to feminist scholarship as it allows us to identify against whom can we protest, deny, and challenge. Her metaphor of refraction is thus a way of thinking about material objects, once they have become tropes, such as the HPV vaccine across national contexts, and being able to see it as a prism that refracts the discourses within which it was originally entangled. This image of refraction forces us to think of a material object like the HPV vaccine as creating a spectrum of visible actors, concerns and values. And it is these visible things that help us to articulate discourses – which then allow us to protest and possibly erase their problematic power structures.


Taylor Fox-Smith is teaching gender studies at Macquarie University and researching the gender gap in political behaviour and psychology at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney, Australia. Having received a Bachelor of International and Global Studies with first class Honours in American Studies at the University of Sydney, Taylor was awarded the American Studies Best Thesis Award for her work titled The Lemonade Nexus. The thesis uses the theme of marital infidelity in Beyonce’s 2016 visual album Lemonade as a popular cultural narrative of institutional betrayal, and parallels it with police brutality in Baltimore city. It argues that the album provides an alternative model of political formation which can help to understand redemption in the wake of an urban uprising. Rewriting the traditional protest to politics narrative with an iterative nexus named after the album, Taylor’s research continues to straddle political science, gender studies and popular culture.

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