The Ubiquitous Mandarin. Notes on the Social Organization of Elite Medicine in the Twentieth Century


  • Luc Berlivet French School of Rome and Research Center Medicine Science Health and Society (CNRS – INSERM – EHESS), Paris, F.


Disease , Elite medicine, Social organization of modern medicine, Symbolic capital


The aim of this essay is to reflect on the prominence given to individuals in the history of medicine. Although modern medicine, just as modern science before, has grown in complexity to the point of implying a great number of actors engaged in highly institutionalized processes, the historiography in the field is still dominated by biographical research. The persistence of high level of individualization observed in elite medicine originates, first and foremost, in the ''multipositionality'' of priminent physicians. By holding positions in universities, hospitals, research institutes, and providing expertise to the public and private sectors as well ad non-profit organizations, medical Mandarins bridge the gap between the different social worlds of modern medicine. Building on a case study, namely the career of Robert Debré, I shed light on the specific qualities that are often attributed to such multipositional actors, and on the accumulation of “symbolic capital” that help legitimize their professional dominance.