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Cancer, COVID-19, and the need for critique


In this open letter we examine the implications of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for cancer research and care from the point of view of the social studies of science, technology, and medicine. We discuss how the pandemic has disrupted several aspects of cancer care, underscoring the fragmentation of institutional arrangements, the malleable priorities in cancer research, and the changing promises of therapeutic innovation. We argue for the critical relevance of qualitative social sciences in cancer research during the pandemic despite the difficulties of immersive kinds of fieldwork. Social science research can help understand the ongoing, situated and lived impact of the pandemic, as well as fully underline its socially stratified consequences. We outline the risk that limiting and prioritising research activities according to their immediate clinical outcomes might have in the relational and longitudinal understanding of cancer practices in the UK. Finally, we alert against potential distortions that a “covidization” of cancer research might entail, arguing for the need to maintain a critical point of view on the pandemic.

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