Making and managing medical anomalies: Exploring the classification of ‘medically unexplained symptoms’
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonRasmussen. Making and managing medical anomalies: Exploring the classification of ‘medically unexplained symptoms’. Social Studies of Science. 2020;50(6):901-931 https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312720940405
This article explores the making and management of anomaly in scientific work, taking ‘medically unexplained symptoms’ (MUS) as its case. MUS is a category used to characterize health conditions that are widely held to be ambiguous, in terms of their nature, causes and treatment. It has been suggested that MUS is a ‘wastebasket diagnosis’. However, although a powerful metaphor, it does neither the category nor the profession justice: Unlike waste in a wastebasket, unexplained symptoms are not discarded but contained, not ejected but managed. Rather than a ‘wastebasket’, I propose that we instead think about it as a ‘junk drawer’. A junk drawer is an ordering device whose function is the containment of things we want to keep but have nowhere else to put. Based on a critical document analysis of the research literature on MUS (107 research articles from 10 medical journals, published 2001–2016), the article explores how the MUS category is constituted and managed as a junk drawer in medical science.