Patient complains of …: How medicalization mediates power and justice

International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 3 (1):72-98 (2010)
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The process of medicalization has been analyzed in the medical humanities with disapprobation, with much emphasis placed on its ability to reinforce existing social power structures to ill effect. While true, this is an incomplete picture of medicalization. I argue that medicalization can both reinforce and disrupt existing social hierarchies within the clinic and outside of it, to ill or good effect. We must attend to how this takes place locally and globally lest we misunderstand how medicalization mediates power and justice. I provide concrete examples of how this occurs by considering dysesthesia ethiopsis, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and HIV/AIDS.

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Alison Reiheld
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


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