English overview | Lines of research

Line 3 - Health as government of individuals and populations

Coordination : Boris Hauray and Giovanni Prete

Health issues occupy a growing place in contemporary societies. This growth can be seen in the increase in healthcare expenditure in countries of the so-called Global North, the political and media attention paid to public health issues, and the extension of the domains of individual and collective life considered in the light of medical and health categories. This line brings together researchers studying these changes.

It is important to emphasise, on the one hand, that these changes are not merely the result of progress in technological, scientific, and medical knowledge, but that they are also the product of complex dynamics made up of alliances and struggles between medical, scientific, economic, political, and NGO actors to direct, for example, the production of categories and knowledge, the definition of public action, and changes in living and working conditions.

On the other hand, it is a question of analysing the effects of these changes beyond the improvement of the health of the population, by taking into account their impact on power relations and inequalities in contemporary societies. To explore the moral and political dimensions of healthcare, this line relies on the creation of collective research programmes that combine pluridisciplinary skills. There are three areas of research:

First area: The construction of healthcare knowledge and its uses

Healthcare practices and policies rely on the production of knowledge resulting from the definition, collection, circulation, and analysis of data. The use of healthcare knowledge and data is not restricted to the field of diseases, as they also are employed, for example, in the legal domain.

The studies aim to analyse the construction of this knowledge and data and their ‘objectivity’. It examines their intended or diverted uses, as well as their impact on individuals and groups. Projects study the use of data produced within healthcare establishments by doctors and researchers in public health and in the social and human sciences (SHS). An open working group organised a first Big Data and SHS Study Day: Shared Interests and Perspectives on Public Health in June 2017, with the objective of forming a ‘Big Data and SHS’ scientific interest group. Other researchers focus on the political and ethical questions raised by the production and use of genetic data. Studies are also conducted in the domains of mental health and adolescent behavioural disorders.

Second area: Relations between healthcare and economic interests

Here, it is a question of studying the health consequences of the professional activities of individuals and the health risks that come from the pursuit of economic objectives by industrial actors, including environmental pollution and risks related to taking medication. To analyse the difficult articulation between healthcare goals and economic goals, studies concentrate on understanding the mechanisms that lead to the continuation of dangerous or morally reprehensible practices and on studying the policies to regulate economic and professional activities. One of the strengths of this area of research is not only that it relies on studies on different types of activities and different products or types of risk, but also that it situates itself at several different levels of the social space, from the local level to the development of national, European, or global legislation. Studies are thus carried out on professional exposure to carcinogens in industrial environments; on the possible professional and/or environmental origins of haematological cancers in the Avignon region; on health risks related to the use of pesticides in France; and on conflicts of interest in the pharmaceutical domain in France and Europe.

Third area: Relations between health, body, and the individual

On the one hand, several domains and individual practices that were once thought to be part of daily or private life are now perceived through medical categories and/or their healthcare consequences. In order to understand the multiple forms of expression of this change, studies have been undertaken on various phenomena. In the domain of food, the emergence of new scientific knowledge is analysed in terms of how it contributes to changing the status of food and food practices more generally. In the domain of sport, projects examine the effects of the professionalisation of sport on the medicalisation of the human body and the development of performance mechanisms.

Studies also explore the connections between care and other forms of government of bodies by analysing the medical treatment of people judged to be potentially dangerous or in danger, its mental and physical repercussions, and, more generally, what it says about changes in the frontiers of privacy, in conjunction with line 2.

Sorbonne Paris Nord

Bâtiment Recherche Sud
5 cours des Humanités
93322 Aubervilliers cedex

UFR SMBH 74 rue Marcel Cachin, 93017 Bobigny cedex



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