Medical critiques: Interrogating and criticizing medical thought and practice

Course content

In 1975, the philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich began his book Medical Nemesis – The expropriation of health and the limits of medicine by stating that “The medical establishment has become a major threat to health.” Illich’s critique was both radical and angry, but raises important discussions about the medicalization of western societies both then and now. The concept of medicalization refers to a process whereby human problems not previously understand as medical conditions come to be treated as such; from ‘restless leg syndrome’ to ‘oppositional defiant disorder’. Since 1975, the issues Illich raised have changed but not diminished; there are frequent critiques of over-diagnosis, over-prescription, and over-treatment in the media, and the pharmaceutical industry is under pressure both for pricing practices and failure to deliver new drugs for complex, chronic ailments. And in an era of increasing individualization and access to online information, struggles over authority, truth, and patient-doctor relationships are becoming more acute. In this environment, it is useful to be aware of the various strands of medical critiques that have arisen in the past decades; to stimulate thinking about our current condition and positions.

This course will therefore introduce students to a variety of medical critiques, engaging them in reading, debating, and critical reflection. We will touch upon both classical critiques of medicalization such as Ivan Illich’s work and more contemporary versions such as Jacob Stegenga’s Medical Nihilism and Svend Brinkmann’s Diagnostic Cultures: A Cultural Approach to the Pathologization of Modern Life. The course will also include postcolonial critiques of the practices and spread of western medicine, such as e.g. Frantz Fanon’s work on medicine and colonialism, as well as the questions about health and normality raised in recent decades by scholars and activists in disability studies. Discussing theories and models of disability provides a crucial avenue for rearticulating the implicit, normative assumptions of medical thought more generally. Feminist critiques of the gendered structures of medical intervention and research will be examined, alongside feminist science studies and its critique of nature/culture binaries.

 

The course will thus give the students tools for a more critical and reflective relationship with medical thought and practice, as well as an ability to critique the critiques themselves, in an open and respectful environment. Student will explore what purpose the critiques served when they were made, and develop their own position on how we might use various critiques (or not) today. The course will be structured around core readings from the different traditions, used actively through a recurrent debate format, in order to develop skills in adopting different viewpoints.

Education

MSc in Public Health Science - elective course

MSc in Global Health - elective course

MSc in Health Informatics - elective course

MSc in Health Science - elective course

MSc in Human Biology - elective course

Learning outcome

After the course, students should be able to:

Knowledge:

  • Describe a broad and multidisciplinary range of critical approaches to medicine
  • Describe some central research questions about the value, purpose and aims of medical practice and research in the 21st Century
  • Describe some key theoretical concepts from the interdisciplinary literature on medical critiques and relate them to a public health context

 

Skills:

  • Contextualise and analyse discourses on problems in medical practice and knowledge creation from a variety of disciplines and starting points
  • Critically analyse the theoretical, empirical and normative foundations of critiques of medicine and medical science
  • Participate in debates about the practice and purpose of health care and medicine science in an informed manner

 

Competences:

  • Critically reflect on the literature and topics covered in the course
  • Apply the reflective skills gained during the course in future interactions with different stakeholders in the health care sector.
  • Write essays that critically discuss the problematics and reflect the complexity of the field

Lectures, class debates

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
ECTS
5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, 7 dage
7-days written assigment
Aid
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner
Criteria for exam assessment

To receive the grade 12, the student will be able to:

Knowledge:

  • Describe a broad and multidisciplinary range of critical approaches to medicine
  • Describe some central research questions about the value, purpose and aims of medical practice and research in the 21st Century
  • Describe some key theoretical concepts from the interdisciplinary literature on medical critiques and relate them to a public health context

 

Skills:

  • Contextualise and analyse discourses on problems in medical practice and knowledge creation from a variety of disciplines and starting points
  • Critically analyse the theoretical, empirical and normative foundations of critiques of medicine and medical science
  • Participate in debates about the practice and purpose of health care and medicine science in an informed manner

 

Competences:

  • Critically reflect on the literature and topics covered in the course
  • Apply the reflective skills gained during the course in future interactions with different stakeholders in the health care sector.
  • Write essays that critically discuss the problematics and reflect the complexity of the field

 

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 20
  • Preparation
  • 62
  • Exam
  • 56
  • English
  • 138