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Against Health

How Health Became the New Morality

Jonathan Metzl, Anna Kirkland, 0

Publication Year: 2010

“[A]n important new book.” –Psychology Today

Published by: NYU Press

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

Against Health was a concept, and a conference, before it was a book. The editors express tremendous gratitude to the many people whose dedication, skill, generosity, and foresight enabled this transformation. From the beginning, Carol Boyd and David Halperin envisioned and supported the Against Health conference, ...

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1. Introduction: Why Against Health?

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pp. 1-12

On behalf of the authors, let me reply to these questions by proclaiming that we believe that anyone who feels ill before, during, or after reading this book should seek immediate medical attention. We believe in the germ theory of infectious illness. We believe in penicillin. We believe that physicians should ...

Part I: What Is Health, Anyway?

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2. What Is Health and How Do You Get It?

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pp. 15-25

The title of this book, Against Health, arises out of the same counterintuitive impulse and obeys the same rhetorical strategy that led me to call two of my books Cigarettes Are Sublime and Eat Fat. I call that rhetorical strategy “contrarian hyperbole.” When anything has been so debased or so glorified that its value ...

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3. Risky Bigness: On Obesity, Eating, and the Ambiguity of “Health”

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pp. 26-39

I’m not against health at all, not even a little. But in a time of massive obesity and starvation, food plenty and food shortage, health isn’t what it used to be. This chapter is about the obesity epidemic, and the relation of risky bigness to what it feels like to eat. My claim is that physical health and mental health are duking ..

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4. Against Global Health? Arbitrating Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense through Health

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pp. 40-58

Early in the wake of the millennium, the idea of global health began to take hold in the world of international development aid. By 2006, programs in “International Health” throughout the United States began to rename themselves and create subsidiary programs in “Global Health.” The University of California, San Francisco ...

Part II: Seeing Health through Morality

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

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pp. 61-71

The expansion of genetic research and technologies has helped to create a new “biological citizenship” that enables individuals to take unprecedented authority over their health at the molecular level. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), for example, allows parents to select embryos that are shown by genetic testing ...

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6. Fat Panic and the New Morality

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pp. 72-82

Medicine is a major institution of social control. The United States is religious, but out-and-out rebukes of “heathen!” or “sinner!” to disorderly behavior don’t exactly fly at the present moment. Instead, the language of health and risk has become a repository for a new kind of moralism. There’s been much talk ...

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7. Against Breastfeeding (Sometimes)

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pp. 83-90

I am not against health. I’m also not opposed to freedom. Or compassion. But when one person’s freedom to drive her car at any speed infringes on my freedom to travel safely, or when compassion for others leads to a loss of self, I begin to see the merits of restriction and selfishness. I’m troubled by seemingly ...

Part III: Making Health and Disease

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8. Pharmaceutical Propaganda

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pp. 93-104

Several years ago, I was sitting in my office at the University of Minnesota, trying to avoid work, when I got an unusual phone call.1 It came from an international advertising agency. The woman on the phone said she had read my book, Better than Well, and wondered if I would talk about it at a meeting in Boston. ...

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9. The Strangely Passive-Aggressive History of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder

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pp. 105-120

When psychiatric terms such as “bipolar” and “passive-aggressive” migrate into popular culture and assume everyday meaning, there are several effects that deserve comment and analysis. First, as Georges Canguilhem and others have observed, the boundaries between the normal and the pathological begin to blur. ...

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10. Obsession: Against Mental Health

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pp. 121-132

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was a rare and strange disease before the 1970s. Estimates of its prevalence in the general population at that time were from 0.05 percent to 0.005 percent.1 If you were a mental health practitioner, you would expect to see, by the former percentage, one person out of two thousand ...

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11. Atomic Health, or How The Bomb Altered American Notions of Death

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pp. 133-154

What happened to health in the atomic age? If we consider health the absence of illness and thus the opposite of death, the atomic bomb has fundamentally altered, if not totally invalidated, the concept. My dictionary defines health as a “condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit” involving “freedom from ...

Part IV: Pleasure and Pain after Health

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12. How Much Sex Is Healthy? The Pleasures of Asexuality

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pp. 157-169

Physicians, public health practitioners, and “pro-sex” activists may agree that sexual drive is a natural, healthy, and essential aspect of the human. Health risks related to sexual activities are often highlighted by these individuals, but the idea that willingness and capability to have sex reflects and promotes a person’s ...

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13. Be Prepared

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pp. 170-182

I don’t blame people for not knowing how to engage with a person with cancer. How would they? Heck, I hadn’t either. Despite the fact that each year 70,000 Americans between the ages of fifteen and forty are diagnosed with the disease and that incidence in this age group has doubled in the last thirty years, ...

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14. In the Name of Pain

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pp. 183-194

To be against health is to be for pain because human beings suffer from sickness. But to suffer from sickness is something of a metaphor. We supposedly suffer from diseases and disabilities whether or not they are painful. The man standing on the corner pointing the white cane suffers from blindness, ...

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15. Conclusion: What Next?

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pp. 195-204

What should we do after deciding to be against health? What does it even mean to be against health? Should we stop going to the doctor or stop doing things that are supposed to be healthy? We do not conclude from the chapters collected here that it would be a good idea to start neglecting health. ...

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About the Contributors

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pp. 205-208

Vincanne Adams is Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author, most recently, of Doctors for Democracy: Health Professionals in the Nepal Revolution, and editor, with Stacy L. Pigg, of Sex and Development: Science, Sexuality, and Morality in Global Perspective. ...


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pp. 209-217

E-ISBN-13: 9780814761106
E-ISBN-10: 0814761100
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814795927
Print-ISBN-10: 0814795927

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Medical ethics.
  • Health services accessibility.
  • Social medicine.
  • Health -- Moral and ethical aspects.
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