AA  Vol.4 No.2 , May 2014
The Steampunk Doctor: Practicing Medicine in a Mechanical Age
Abstract: Influenced by both 19th-century literature and popular representations of science, the figure of the medical doctor in steampunk fiction is marked by ambiguity. At the same time a scientist, a wizard and a mechanic, the steampunk doctor exists halfway between respectability and illegitimacy, a manipulator of bodies, a wielder of mysterious powers, a respectable and ominous character at the same time. Their role includes but is not limited to healing bodies. Indeed, steampunk examines the consequences extraordinary medical discoveries can have on both individuals and societies. It questions the meaning of “improvement” in the context of medicine, and whether it is ethical for medical practitioners to bring human bodies beyond their normal state, to the point that normality itself has to be re-defined. This paper describes the figure of the steampunk doctor and details the place and power of medicine in steampunk worlds. On the one hand, the steampunk doctor can modify bodies at will, bringing bio-engineering on a par with regular engineering, and leading to questions about the boundaries (ontological and ethical) between humans and objects, living and inanimate matter. On the other hand, their work on individual bodies can lead to transformations of their society as a whole, by modifying entire groups to suit social or political agendas, or in a quest for personal power. In the end, the figure of the steampunk doctor brings to the forefront some ethical questionings about medicine, healing, bio-engineering and human enhancement that are very relevant to the present times, in spite of the deceptively retrospective aesthetics.
Cite this paper: Cristofari, C. & Guitton, M. (2014). The Steampunk Doctor: Practicing Medicine in a Mechanical Age. Advances in Anthropology, 4, 89-98. doi: 10.4236/aa.2014.42012.

[1]   Arakawa, H. (2001-2010). Full Metal Alchemist. San Francisco: Viz Media.

[2]   Bostrom, N., & Sandberg, A. (2008). The Wisdom of Nature: An Evolutionary Heuristic for Human Enhancement. In N. Bostrom (Ed.), Human Enhancement (pp. 375-416). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3]   Bowser, R., & Croxall, B. (2010). Introduction: Industrial Evolution. Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, 3, 1-45.

[4]   Brook, M. (2010). The Iron Duke. New York: Berkley Books.

[5]   Caro, M., & Jeunet, J. P. (dir). (1995). The City of Lost Children. Adrien, G., Caro, M. & Jeunet, J. P. (writ). UGC.

[6]   Colson, R., & Ruaud, A. F. (2006). Science-Fiction: une litterature du reel. Paris: Klincksieck.

[7]   DiFilippo, P. (1997). The Steampunk Trilogy. Philadelphia: Running Press.

[8]   Ferguson, C. (2011). Surface Tensions: Steampunk, Subculture and the Ideology of Style. Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, 4, 66-90.

[9]   Foglio, P., & Foglio, K. (2001-present). Girl Genius.

[10]   Forlini, S. (2010). Technology and Morality: The Stuff of Steampunk. Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, 3, 72-98.

[11]   Foucault, M. (1973). The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Sheridan, A. (trad). London: Routledge.

[12]   Francis, C. K. (2001). Medical Ethos and Social Responsibility in Clinical Medicine. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 78, 29-45.

[13]   Freidson, E. (1970). Professional Dominance: The Social Structure of Medical Care. Piscataway: Transaction Publishers.

[14]   Guitton, M. J. (2013). Morphological Conservation in Human-Animal Hybrids in Science Fiction and Fantasy Settings: Is Our Imagination as Free as We Think It Is? Advances in Anthropology, 3, 157-163.

[15]   Heilmann, A., & Llewellyn, M. (2010). Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

[16]   Hodder, M. (2010). The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack. London: Snowbooks.

[17]   Hogle, L. F. (2002). Introduction: Jurisdictions of Authority and Expertise in Science and Medicine. Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness, 21, 231-246.

[18]   James, E. (1994). Science Fiction in the 20th Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[19]   Jeter, K. W. (1987). Infernal Devices. New York: St Martin’s Press.

[20]   Kamm, F. M. (2005). Is There a Problem with Enhancement? The American Journal of Bioethics, 5, 5-14.

[21]   Mann, G. (2008). The Affinity Bridge. London: Snowbooks.

[22]   Mann, G. (2011). The Immorality Engine. London: Snowbooks.

[23]   Mieville, C. (2003). Perdido Street Station. New York: Del Rey Books.

[24]   Nevins, J. (2011). Prescriptivists versus Descriptivists: Defining Steampunk. Science Fiction Studies, 38, 513-518.

[25]   Newman, K. (1992). Anno Dracula. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[26]   Norrington, S. (Dir.) (2003). The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. J. D. Robinson (Writer), Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox.

[27]   Onion, R. (2008). Reclaiming the Machine: An Introductory Look at Steampunk in Everyday Practice. Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, 1, 138-163.

[28]   Perschon, M. (2010). Steam Wars. Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, 3, 127-166.

[29]   Priest, C. (2009). Boneshaker. New York: Tor Books.

[30]   Robert, J. S., & Baylis, F. (2003). Crossing Species Boundaries. The American Journal of Bioethics, 3, 1-13.

[31]   Saint-Gelais, R. (2011). Fictions Transfuges. Paris: Seuil.

[32]   Schwartz, P. H. (2005). Defending the Distinction between Treatment and Enhancement. The American Journal of Bioethics, 5, 17-19.

[33]   Sedia, E. (2008). The Alchemy of Stone. Gaithersburg, MD: Prime Books.

[34]   Shelley, M. (1818). Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor and Jones.

[35]   Stephenson, N. (1995). The Diamond Age. New York: Bantam Spectra.

[36]   Stevenson, R. L. (1886). The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London: Longman and Green, Co.

[37]   Valentine, G. (2011). Mechanique. Gaithersburg, MD: Prime Books.

[38]   Wells, H. G. (1896). The Island of Doctor Moreau. London: Heinemann, Stone and Kimball.

[39]   Westerfeld, S. (2009). Leviathan. New York: Simon Pulse.

[40]   Wolf, T. (2005). Barton-Wright’s Misadventures in Electrotherapy. In T. Wolf (Ed.), The Bartitsu Compendium, Volume 1: History and the Canonical Syllabus (pp. 63-67). Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press.

[41]   Wood, M. (Dir.) (2008-2011). Sanctuary. New York: Syfy.