Bio-politics, Medicine, and Bodies
January 26 2013
Bio-politics, Bio-citizenship, Bio-citizenship: A Big Mixture
As a society, we throw around the word “Politics” freely and often. Its a polarizing concept and evokes both excitement and disdain in American citizens. However, to many the idea of politics seems very abstract. Sure, there are visible institutions of government and tangible evidence of certain political machines at work. But people struggle with seeing deeper into how government affects not only their day to day lives, but their very bodies. I'm talking about the intersection of private science and government-”bio politics”. To engage in a ...view middle of the document...
This rapid expansion of social processes through techno-scientific developments, or “technological intensification”, remains central to not only medicalization in a general sense, but also the role of technology in determining social norms about health. All these differing views do complement each other nicely and illustrate the multi-directional nature of medicalization. However, how do these concepts of bio-politics and medicalization affect us concretely as individuals- or more specifically as “citizens”?
So far, medicalization has been presented as this expansive, categorical, and often oppressive machine. It does have an active role in our health, but we as people have an active, albeit more subtle, role in medicalization as well. Fundamentally, a nation is only as strong as its citizens. Therefore, the health of its citizens determine the “health” of the state. This responsibility to state health has been around long before nation-states were even established and lends itself well to the proverb “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” But with the expanding role of bio-technology and health in society a new kind of responsibility for our bodies- and in turn the state. Authors Nikolas Rose and Carlos Novas term this “biological citizenship” and it is a direct effect of the social changes of medicalization detailed by Zola, Clarke, and Conrad. With the spread of medicine throughout society in such an intensified manner, we are bombarded with idealistic imagery of health. This functions as a “call to arms” for people to assume a new identity of well being. In terms of medicalization and bio-politics, one truly begets the other. However, such a combination pressures people to collectivize and relinquish their individuality. Our bodies are no longer our own but are reduced to simple elements of a nation. What proves to be more troublesome about biological citizenship is the aforementioned idea of “health”. The entire realm of bio-politics has been based upon science and is held up by stable and seemingly reputable scientific, medical, and government institutions. As “good” biological citizens, our daily decisions and lifestyle are focused on maintaining “good health”. Superficially, I doubt anyone would argue against the promotion of well-being and having an optimally functioning body. It is the very term “health” that causes concern. We must recognize that health is a dynamic and objective concept that changes over time as society evolves. Behavior that was common even 50 years ago, has been deemed medically unsafe and therefore “taboo”. Certain prescription medicines, alcohol, and cigarettes are just a few examples.
The nature of health remains a cyclical one, but not everything that goes around comes back around in good form. Take fatness for instance. Back in the Victorian Era, it was seen as a sign of...