Alka Menon

Area(s) of Interest:  Medical Sociology; Science and Technology Studies; Race and Ethnic Studies; Gender; Cultural Sociology; Sociology of Law; Qualitative Methods

Current Research
My dissertation examines the relationship between aesthetic medicine and social identities. Cosmetic surgery is an elective medical procedure performed by doctors around the world to enhance patients’ physical appearance, typically paid for by patients out of pocket. Surgeons wield considerable influence as to what is appropriate or desirable in cosmetic surgery. In developing surgical interventions, cosmetic surgeons confront not just medical but also cultural questions. My research asks: How do surgeons translate and apply their “universal” medical knowledge to different social groups? What is the relationship between physical bodies and social identities, and how is it mediated by technology in cosmetic surgery? My research compares the ideals, procedures, technologies and outcomes associated with elective cosmetic surgery in multicultural societies, examining the cases of the U.S. and Malaysia. As multicultural countries situated in different historical and geopolitical contexts, the U.S. and Malaysia help uncover the link between physical features and embodied identities. In my dissertation, I explore how medicine interprets and shapes social categories such as race and gender (and vice versa) in contexts where bodies are understood as markers of social difference.

Social Science Research Council Dissertation Prospectus Development Fellowship, May-September 2014; Robert F. Winch Award for Best 2nd Year Paper, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University, Fall 2013; Graduate Affiliate, Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, 2013-2015; Honorable Mention, National Science