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About the Author

Susan E. Bell

Susan E. Bell is Professor of Sociology and A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. Her specialty is the sociology of health and illness. For the past ten years she has worked with the Maine Humanities Council to develop and teach seminars in literature and medicine at hospitals and health centers in Maine.

Before becoming a sociologist Susan worked in feminist health centers on the east coast and west coast of the US in the early 1970s to transform how women’s health care and how knowledge about women’s health and health care are developed and taught. She wrote feminisms from the early 1980s to the late 1990s in what has been called the “bible” of feminist health, Our Bodies, Ourselves (Simon and Schuster); she authored the birth control chapter in the 1984, 1992, and 1998 editions of OBOS. She has studied feminisms in embodied health movements in her reflections on writing “Birth Control,” her analyses of The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler, Villard 2001) and breast cancer activists, and her long term study of DES – from the development of the drug in the 1930s to its effects on its users. She began her study of the development of DES while she was working in feminist health centers, because she wanted to identify a topic that combined her activist and scholarly commitments. Her early study of DES analyzed published and unpublished materials prepared by pharmaceutical companies to submit to the Food and Drug Administration between 1938 and 1941. These new drug applications were required by the US government before pharmaceuticals could be marketed. She published a series of papers based on this research that proposed a theoretical framework for understanding medical technology development; demonstrated how menopause became medicalized during the 1930s and 1940s; and showed how medical science reflects and constructs gender. She is currently writing a series of papers and editing a collection of classic articles and review essays with Anne E. Figert (Loyola University) about ‘Medicalization’.

In related work she has used a narrative approach to the interpretation of works of art produced during the late 20th century by women who have had breast cancer as well as DES-related cancer. She looks at the types of work these works of art do — for the artists, for reviewers, and for breast cancer activism. She is co-editing a special issue of health (with Alan Radley), "Another Way of Knowing: Art, Disease, and Illness Experience."

Related Works

"Artworks, collective experience, and claims for social justice: the case of women living with breast cancer," with Alan Radley. Sociology of Health & Illness 29(3):366-390, 2007 Abstract | Full Text HTML

"Living with breast cancer in text and image: Making art to make sense." Qualitative Research in Psychology, special issue on "embodiment" 3(1):31-44, 2006. Abstract » | PDFPDF»

"Photo images: Jo Spence's narratives of living with illness," Health 6(1):5-30, 2002. Click here to view Jo Spence's photographs.
Abstract » | PDFPDF»

For more information see Professor Bell's faculty Web page.

Professor Bell can be contacted via email or at her campus mailing address:

Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Bowdoin College, 7000 College Station
Brunswick, ME 04011-8470