Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality

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Overview

You see someone smoking a cigarette and say,“Smoking is bad for your health,” when what you mean is, “You are a bad person because you smoke.” You encounter someone whose body size you deem excessive, and say, “Obesity is bad for your health,” when what you mean is, “You are lazy, unsightly, or weak of will.” You see a woman bottle-feeding an infant and say,“Breastfeeding is better for that child's health,” when what you mean is that the woman must be a bad parent. You see the smokers, the overeaters, the bottle-feeders, and affirm your own health in the process. In these and countless other instances, the perception of your own health depends in part on your value judgments about others, and appealing to health allows for a set of moral assumptions to fly stealthily under the radar.

Against Health argues that health is a concept, a norm, and a set of bodily practices whose ideological work is often rendered invisible by the assumption that it is a monolithic, universal good. And, that disparities in the incidence and prevalence of disease are closely linked to disparities in income and social support. To be clear, the book's stand against health is not a stand against the authenticity of people's attempts to ward off suffering. Against Health instead claims that individual strivings for health are, in some instances, rendered more difficult by the ways in which health is culturally configured and socially sustained.

The book intervenes into current political debates about health in two ways. First, Against Health compellingly unpacks the divergent cultural meanings of health and explores the ideologies involved in its construction. Second, the authors present strategies for moving forward. They ask, what new possibilities and alliances arise? What new forms of activism or coalition can we create? What are our prospects for well-being? In short, what have we got if we ain't got health? Against Health ultimately argues that the conversations doctors, patients, politicians, activists, consumers, and policymakers have about health are enriched by recognizing that, when talking about health, they are not all talking about the same thing. And, that articulating the disparate valences of “health” can lead to deeper, more productive, and indeed more healthy interactions about our bodies.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Building on the 2006 Against Health conference, this collection of essays reexamines the definition of "health," particularly as a mechanism for moral judgment. Experts in anthropology, bioethics, women's studies, law, and literature examine the influences of business, politics, globalization, and science on health in the United States. Contributors explain how changing definitions of health may lead to the stigmatization of people who fall outside of the ideal and how these views influence their individual freedoms. Others examine how the pressure to market pharmaceuticals can lead to overemphasizing disease symptoms to justify the need for new medications. A particularly interesting piece explores how an increased emphasis on evidence-based research may remove health care from those who need it the most. A final essay tackles how society's fear of pain may lead to unfortunate decisions for the terminally ill or for those with disabilities. VERDICT Lots of food for thought—this highly philosophical book may discourage some readers but will be of interest to those wanting to stretch their views on health care.—Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida St. Petersburg Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814795934
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 11/23/2010
  • Pages: 226
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan M. Metzl is associate professor in the women’s studies department and the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, where he also directs the program in culture, Health, and medicine. He is the author of Prozac on the Couch: Prescribing Gender in the Era of Wonder Drugs and Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease.

Anna Kirkland is Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood(NYU Press).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

1 Introduction: Why "Against Health"" Jonathan M. Metzl 1

Part I What Is Health, Anyway"

2 What Is Health and How Do You Get It" Richard Klein 15

3 Risky Bigness: On Obesity, Eating, and the Ambiguity of "Health" Lauren Berlant 26

4 Against Global Health" Arbitrating Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense through Health Vincanne Adams 40

Part II Seeing Health through Morality

5 The Social Immorality of Health in the Gene Age: Race, Disability, and Inequality Dorothy Roberts 61

6 Fat Panic and the New Morality Kathleen LeBesco 72

7 Against Breastfeeding (Sometimes) Joan B. Wolf 83

Part III Making Health and Disease

8 Pharmaceutical Propaganda Carl Elliott 93

9 The Strangely Passive-Aggressive History of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder Christopher Lane 105

10 Obsession: Against Mental Health Lennard J. Davis 121

11 Atomic Health, or How The Bomb Altered American Notions of Death Joseph Masco 133

Part IV Pleasure and Pain after Health

12 How Much Sex Is Healthy" The Pleasures of Asexuality Eunjung Kim 157

13 Be Prepared S. Lochlann Jain 170

14 In the Name of Pain Tobin Siebers 183

15 Conclusion: What Next" Anna Kirkland 195

About the Contributors 205

Index 209

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