‘Mutant fish only’: Epistemic hybridity and the boundary work of medical illustrators


  • Drew Danielle Belsky York University




medical illustration, professionalization, diversity and inclusion, boundary work


Drawing on two years of ethnographic research in North American graduate programs and professional gatherings for medical illustrators, my research builds on feminist studies of science and technology to understand how expertise and agency are negotiated in this female-dominated biomedical specialty. The disciplinary storytelling practices of medical illustrators navigate an insecure relationship to biomedical authority by reinscribing normative social hierarchies of gender, race, class, size and disability. When entering the profession, medical illustrators situate themselves as misfits and hybrids, straddling rhetorically opposed domains of ‘art’ and ‘science.’ In the course of their graduate education, this tension is resolved by recasting this epistemic border-crossing as ‘storytelling’ and communication of scientific knowledge to those without it. This boundary work contains the potential disruption of epistemic hybridity by constructing their work as fundamentally subservient to biomedicine, limiting the potential to challenge conventions of representation and inclusion in the profession.

Author Biography

Drew Danielle Belsky, York University

Drew Danielle Belsky is a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at York University in Toronto. Situated at the intersection of STS, disability studies, and visual arts, Drew’s current research focuses on the role of professional medical illustrators in the formation and maintenance of biomedical knowledge practices.


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How to Cite

Belsky, D. D. (2022). ‘Mutant fish only’: Epistemic hybridity and the boundary work of medical illustrators. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 18(2). https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-id492