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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the medical gaze « Previous | |Next »
January 8, 2010

Though the concept of Medicalization needs to be revised to one over-medicalization, we still have the pharmaceutical industry busily engaged in shunting everyday problems into the domain of professional biomedicine.


This medicalization of the social is happening at a time of the erosion of medical authority; health policy shifting from access to cost control; managed care becoming central; the emergence of corporatised medicine; genetics becoming the cutting edge of medical knowledge and moving to the centre of medical and public discourse about illness and health; and the development of medical markets (cosmetic surgery).

Many socially unacceptable behaviors have been medicalized and assigned disease terms in the 20th century and we have the medicalization of depression in which the natural emotions of sadness are medicalized as a depressive disorder.

These are examples of the way that medicine as a dominant institution has expanded its gaze in the past half century or more and become central to the subjectivities of people's lives. The mechanisms here are both the transformation of the normal (sadness) into the pathological (a depressive disorder) and the way that medical ideologies, interventions and therapies have reset and controlled the borders of acceptable behaviour (social deviance), bodies (overweightness ) and states of being (social anxiety).

Over medicalization is now a common part of our professional, consumer and market culture in a post Prozac world--eg., medicalizing aging bodies (both female and male) in an attempt to control old age. This medical market is about pharmaceutical companies constructing and marketing diseases (anxiety) and then selling drugs (Paxil) to treat those diseases.

Another example is testosterone therapy for the treatment of male menopause (running on empty) to restore or enhance masculinity that plays withe body-as-machine metaphor. Men can fill up the tank with drugs to regain their sex drive, energy and optimism to become the sleek, powerful machine they desire to be.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:42 AM | | Comments (3)


There's a tendency now for medical science to be seen as the route to remake someone into the individual they wish they were. Cosmetic surgery of course has been doing this for a long time but now there are many medical interventions which promise to modify people's very personalities. Thus if you think your kids get angry too often, just put them on a drug to turn them into sweet-natured little angels.

The line between making people well and allowing them to remake themselves has become hopelessly blurred, and advances in biotechnology will ensure the trend continues.

The invention of ADD is my favourite thing to hate about the medicalisation of normal. Seeing my brother on dexamphetamine always reminded me of that treatment they used to use on 'hysterical' women, mincing the frontal lobe with knitting needles. HRT isn't so far removed either.

At the same time there's been the introduction of products to fix vague 'problems' we don't seem to have had before. We now need pantyliners for 'freshness' and hospital grade disinfectants in the kitchen. What's our cave-dwelling immune system supposed to make of that? Toothbrushes with tongue scrubbers and gadgets to ensure there's a permanent spray of insecticide around the home.

Is nature really that threatening?

Hi Gary,

I agree that there is a tendency to over-medicalization within western society. Medical science often seems to want to give us a pill that will "cure" behavioural problems that in my opinion can be dealt with by behavioural/psychological/individual means.

With regard to the issue of sadness versus depression from my perspective the former is normal whilst the latter is a state that causes a dysfuntion in a persons life. It is this latter point that is important. Sadness should never be called depression. Depression has to cause a significant impairment in a persons functioning for it to be diagnosed as depression.