Critical Evaluation



Critically evaluate this claim : Medicalisation and demedicalisation are best understood as a part of the operation of biopower.

-The answers should include reference to a substantial contemporary or historical case study of a set of health-related practices or a health promotion campaign.

-I will upload some readings that need to be include in the essay.




Medicalisation and Demedicalisation as an Operation of Biopower

Biopower is a term introduced by Michel Foucault, a philosopher from France. The term explained the actions of the modern states motivation to control their subjects through the development of diverse techniques aimed to subdue the bodies and control populations. Nadesan (2010, p. 2) observed that the use of the biopower in controlling and influencing populations has contributed to the huge developments in the liberalism and neoliberalism kind of governments. Medicalisation is the act of recognizing a behavior or a condition as one that requires medical attention through diagnosis, treatment or medical research (Halfmann, 2011, p. 187). Once the medical practitioners are satisfied that a behavior or a condition does not require medical attention, they decide otherwise. The process is reffered to as demedicalisation. Primarily, biopower is attained through the regulation of health, habits, reproductive methods, and the customs. The concepts of medicalisation and demedicalisation could best be described as the operations of biopower.

Foucault developed the concept of the biopower. He wanted to address the technologies developed by the governments with the intention to manage and control the life of populations. He noted that the government’s power rotates around a specific set of technologies, expertise, and problems. Biopower is widely spread and gives rise to systemic and homologous regularities in the control of the social life. In biopower, the social homologies are realized through the government rationalities that link the life of the society with the governance. The life of the individuals is linked to the market and the population by government set frameworks to attain solutions to the common problems. Although governments utilize other older forms of power such as pastoral and the sovereign powers, the biopower has proved to be the best in the realizing the governing of the social life (Porter, 2013, p. 71).

Nadesan (2010, p. 4) stated that capitalists use the biopower to create needs in the market and develop marketing forces. The capitalists deviate from the adequate eradication of the vital causes of the diseases and opt for the provisions of the medicines. An example is in situations where the government ensures availability of the medicine to treat of cholera and makes no effort to control the safety of the water consumed and the availability of the adequate sanitation. The efforts to control the health problems of the society using the pharmaceutical interventions are intended to serve the market interests. In such situations, the people in the society become dependent on the drugs. The government purports to ensure a healthier workforce but without changing the causative condition of the medical problems. The market commodities, such as soda, and the industrial effluents that negatively affect the health of the workers remains unaltered. The impact is the increased dependency on drugs and increased cost of the hospitalizations. The industries are determined to reduce the increased health costs to their employees rather than tackle pollution that makes employees prone to diseases (Nadesan, 2010, p. 7).

Medicalisation is designed to eradicate social problems by guaranteeing the treatment of the pathological individual’s symptoms. The medicalisation moves beyond the normal acts of ensuring healing to the patients to ensuring the health of the social body. The medicalisation demands the enormous development in the knowledge to tackle the collective issues of the community. The crucial goal of the medicalisation is to turn the human into a physical body that requires a continuous check up from the physicians. The professionals use their knowledge to make the patients fully dependable to the physicians. They have to identify the problem in the social life and make it medical, and the patient would be required to consult the medical personnel frequently.

The practitioners and the government can exercise power over the population by making them medicine dependent. Once a social issue is medicalised, the patients with it are fully dependent on medical interventions. Majorly, the process of the medicalisation is directed towards solving the social symptoms in the society. In the medicalisation, the biopower is applied by recognizing the medicine having the power to heal. However, other methods are available to reduce the occurrence of the disease. Nevertheless, governments are unwilling to apply them. Besides, biopower in the medicalisation ignores that there are other social problems solved through the application of the social measures. The main goal of the medicalisation is to ensure full control of the human life by medicalizing every aspect in their life of the individuals.

Foucault (1980, p. 167) explained that medicalisation is an operation of the biopower. The biopower is created through medicine dependence linked to the power structures. The 18th century was witnessed with the growth of the medical market. The demand for medical attention escalated as well as an increase in the qualified medical personnel who offered quality medical services in diagnosis and treatment. At that time, there was the development of the noso-politics that introduced the aspects of the social medicine. The social medicine was invented in the efforts to address the social problems associated with the growth of the medical biopower. Several states like France and England developed the political strategies to address the medical difficulties experienced by the communities in those areas (Foucant, 1980, p. 169). It was evident that the period in the 18th century had major crucial characteristics that related to the government control of the social life. First, there was huge medicalisation of the problems that families faced and the consideration of a child as a privilege. At that time, the families considered the gift of a child as one of the most crucial objectives (Foucant, 1980, p. 172). At that time, the family was the most significant unit to help in the realization of medicalisation. Second, the era marked a period witnessed with the privilege for the hygiene; the populations witnessed several medical interventions introduced by the authoritarian government.

The medicalisation and the demedicalisation of the abortion in the United States of America is a great example of the operation of the biopower (Halfmann, 2011, p. 192). It is a crucial example where government and the medical personnel’s are involved in the control of the life of the communities. There was a belief that abortion could be done easily before the onset of quickening. In the 19th century, there was increased rivalry between the irregular and the regular physicians with the great efforts being made to control people interested in doing abortion. The regular doctors were qualified professionals. They frequently argued that the irregular physicians were not fit to initiate a safe abortion. Most of the regular doctors objected aborting at some stages of the pregnancy. Nevertheless, a considerable number of them still offered the services to compete effectively with the irregular doctors. The goals of the irregular and the irregular doctors to medicalize the abortion was an operation of the biopower. Both had the desire to control the key aspects of the individuals through marketing.

The onset of demedicalisation occurred when the leaders staged a successful campaign against abortion in the 1850s. The power had moved from the medical biopower to a political biopower. The political leaders had initiated the formation of the American Medical Association (AMA) to help in the eradication of the abortion. Nevertheless, the medical biopower was still felt since the doctors affiliated with AMA wanted to have a full control of the people’s health without the influence of the irregular medical doctors. The irregular doctors had no education background in the health, and they made their cure using traditional means (Halfmann, 2011, p. 193). The health professional sought to show their mighty knowledge in the health sector by fighting against the abortion.

In 1860, many states had formed the laws that outlawed the abortion. The abortion was made illegal in all the stages of pregnancy. The court also made an effort to enforce strictly the laws that formed against abortion. Such laws had reduced the process of the medicalisation and promoted demedicalisation. The states and medical practitioners had gained the biopower while the irregular doctors lost. In 1873, the anti-abortion movements increased. They lobbied the Congress to illegalize any form of advertising encouraging abortion. At this instance, the abortion had faced a huge sense of demedicalisation as the medical professionals and the governments gained control over the population’s life. First, the abortions carried out by the non-physicians were no longer required. More so, all the abortions provided by the midwives were declared illegal (Halfmann, 2011, p. 194).

The attempts to cure homosexuality are also a great example of the biopower. The health professionals had medicalised homosexuality. It was through an effort to gain more control over the population’s life by medicalizing every aspect of sexual intercourse (Martel, 2014, p. 334). Earlier, the problems such as dysfunction had been medicalised. There were trials on treatments such as castration, and the use of the testosterone to control the behavior of the homosexuals. 30% of the adult’s males were approximated to have had experienced some form of homosexuality behaviors in their life. More so, 19% of the woman experienced lesbianism behavior in their life before reaching the age of 40. In the 1960s, attempts were made to cure the problems of homosexuality with the therapy treatments, apomorphine and the use of electric shock. Nevertheless, major of the treatments turned to be lethal to the patients (Cleminson, 2011, p. 45). After that, homosexual behaviors were demedicalised. The medicalisation and the demedicalisation of the homosexuality raised questions over the need to do it. Should some conditions that do not require medical attention need to be medicalised? The crucial aim of the medical practitioners is gaining more control over the life. Who should be mandated to determine that certain social phenomena need medical attention? The gay men in the UK had to endure electric shock and apomorphine intended to reduce their libido. Nevertheless, homosexuality is not considered a medical problem today (Martel, 2014, p. 330).

The medicalisation played a vital role in the control of the population during the onset of urbanization in France. The medicalisation of the epidemics facilitated the government to come up with measures to control and monitor the health in the urban centers. First, the people with certain conditions such as leprosy were not allowed to enter the urban centers. Second, the government adopted the quarantine method in the effort to prevent the spread of certain medical conditions to other urban centers. The government did not segregate the people who were infected. Instead, it placed the population under strict monitoring. The quarantine was the most effective medicalisation policy adopted in the 18th century (Amery, 2014, p. 26). It aimed at controlling the sewerage system, water, air, waste accumulation, and disposal that would have resulted in the emergence of the diseases. Quarantine was described to be medicine for the objects, environment, residential and the workplaces rather than medicine for the living man. The quarantine was described to be the best transformation of the biopower in France during the period of the urbanization.

The biopower is intended to control the population’s social life. The government is known to initiate operations intended to manage and control the life of the populations. Medicalisation and demedicalisation are one of the key operation strategies used in the control of the population by the medical personnel and the government. Nevertheless, sometimes the medicalisation and demedicalisation has been applied without adherence to professionalism such as the case of the abortion in the USA and the concept of homosexuality.


Amery, F 2014, ‘Social Questions, Medical Answers: Contesting British Abortion Law’, Social Politics: International Studies In Gender, State & Society, 21, 1, p. 26, Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 November 2015.

Cleminson, R. 2011. Los Invisibles a History of Male Homosexuality in Spain. Cardiff, University of Wales Press.

Foucant, M 1980. Power/Knowledge: selected interview and other writings 1972-1977 (edited by Colm Gordon), New York: Pantheon Books.

Halfmann, D. T. 2011. Recognizing medicalization and demedicalization: Discourses, practices, and identities. Health:, 1363459311403947.

Martel, SL 2014, ‘Biopower and Reproductive Loss’, Cultural Studies, 28, 2, pp. 327-345, SocINDEX with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 November 2015.

Nadesan, M. H. 2010. Governmentality, biopower, and everyday life. Routledge.

Porter, N. 2013. Bird flu biopower: Strategies for multispecies coexistence in Việt Nam. American Ethnologist, 40(1), 132-148.

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