Review: Timmermans, Postmortem
Stefan Timmermans’s Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths recently underwent something of a medical examination itself. The August 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association features a review commending Timmermans, a professor of sociology, for his “perceptive, insightful, and revealing view of the profession.” A quote follows:
Sociologists rigorously scrutinize as outsiders professions that they study and, consequently, are often received as excessively critical and naive. This is certainly true of medical sociologists. I noted that many of my colleagues viewed this work with skepticism and concern. However, Timmermans asks hard and penetrating questions that the forensic pathology community needs to be asking itself and that others are already asking in court and in budget committees.
Timmermans speaks to professional and cultural components of a “forensic authority” for investigations of suspicious deaths, which derives from a societal need for “death-brokering,” from a legal mandate to investigate suspicious deaths, and from scientific expertise. In so doing, he does not merely describe the work of forensic pathologists or interesting cases but instead probes the foundations of forensic pathology practices. … Postmortem is a wake-up call to forensic pathology, and every practitioner should read it. The book should be viewed as provocative, rather than threatening, and should be a stimulus for important discussion and action by the forensic pathology community.