The Cult and Science of Public Health

The Cult and Science of Public Health: A Sociological Investigation

Kevin Dew
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    The Cult and Science of Public Health
    Book Description:

    In contemporary manifestations of public health rituals and events, people are being increasingly united around what they hold in common-their material being and humanity. As a cult of humanity, public health provides a moral force in society that replaces 'traditional' religions in times of great diversity or heterogeneity of peoples, activities and desires. This is in contrast to public health's foundation in science, particularly the science of epidemiology. The rigid rules of 'scientific evidence' used to determine the cause of illness and disease can work against the most vulnerable in society by putting sectors of the population, such as underrepresented workers, at a disadvantage. This study focuses on this tension between traditional science and the changing vision articulated within public health (and across many disciplines) that calls for a collective response to uncontrolled capitalism and unremitting globalization, and to the way in which health inequalities and their association with social inequalities provides a political rhetoric that calls for a new redistributive social programme. Drawing on decades of research, the author argues that public health is both a cult and a science of contemporary society.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-340-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction. Public Health Theories and Theorizing Public Health
    (pp. 1-10)

    What we can eat, what hazards we face at work, what diseases we should immunize our children against, how we should respond to the health impacts of climate change, where we should smoke and drink alcohol, what is placed in the water we drink, what impact income redistribution policies have on health — these and a great deal else besides are the province of public health. Public health is a collective response to threats against people’s health (Eberhart-Phillips 1999). It can be divided into two major phases. What is called ‘the old public health’ primarily concerned itself with health protection and...

  5. Chapter 1 Myths, Morality and Modern Public Health
    (pp. 11-32)

    In German states in the eighteenth century, national policies and public health became closely entwined in the development of the ‘medical police’ (Rosen 1993). The medical police were state bureaucrats whose goal was the regulation of all aspects of human activity to foster the health of the nation. It was, as Rosen puts it, a form of enlightened despotism: all spheres of human activity, even the most private of individual affairs, were to be regulated for the benefit of the state. Johann Peter Frank, a leading advocate of medical policing, lobbied for bachelor taxes to encourage marriage, and for legislation...

  6. Chapter 2 The Politics of Public Health
    (pp. 33-50)

    ‘Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale’ (CSDH 2008) — so states the World Health Organization’s Committee on the Social Determinants of Health. This chapter explores social justice in relation to representations of population health, knowledge production, commerce, the state, and international agencies. Public health activities can act to control populations or advocate for change at the state and international level. This is not without its contradictions and paradoxes. Public health can be used as a means of promoting social good, or as a means of opening up markets to commercial enterprise. Public health can resist the efforts of...

  7. Chapter 3 Health Promotion Settings and Health Hostile Environments
    (pp. 51-70)

    Within the purview of public health, the basic human functions such as drinking, eating and moving are integrated into a system of meaning related to the collective good. While old public health tended to focus on disease, public health in contemporary times has tended to concentrate more on the prevention of chronic illness. The focus on prevention has meant health regimes are no longer limited to the bedridden or the infected. Entire populations are now, potentially, under the scope of initiatives to improve health through their everyday activities. This extension of the clinical gaze has been characterized as surveillance medicine...

  8. Chapter 4 Public Health and Health Professionals
    (pp. 71-90)

    In schools of public health you will find, perhaps lurking at the end of the corridor or placed on a different floor from her epidemiological colleagues, a health economist. Health economics has become an integral part of public health, and when the procedures of economic calculation are married to epidemiological descriptions, something quite potent is produced. With their utilitarian underpinnings, these two forms of quantifying the social world have had a considerable impact on the delivery of medicine and health care, promoting a standardization of practices. This is particularly so in relation to clinical practice.

    The movement towards rationalization in...

  9. Chapter 5 The Political Use of Public Health
    (pp. 91-110)

    Exposure to hazards in any setting can give rise to disputes over the impact of those exposures. U.S. Vietnam War veterans in America alleged that they suffered various symptoms due to exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide that contained, as a by-product, dioxin (Scott 1988). Dioxin is perhaps the most toxic agent produced during chemical manufacture and in the event of dioxin contamination a host of symptoms can occur, including severe skin rashes, malaise, peripheral nervous system disturbances, liver toxicity and possibly cancer (Commission for the Environment 1985). In the process of attempting to gain recognition for their suffering, the...

  10. Chapter 6 Public Health Campaigns
    (pp. 111-130)

    In 1772, Edward Jenner took pus from the blisters of a milkmaid and injected the pus into the eight-year-old son of his gardener. He then deliberately injected the boy with smallpox (Halliday 2007: 282). The boy survived, and from such ethically sound research the process of vaccination was born. Today, vaccines are the most significant intervention used in attempts to eradicate communicable diseases worldwide.

    Chapter 4 showed how public health projects can conflict with the practices of general practitioners, such that uniform public health initiatives impose upon the flexibility required by primary care physicians and general practitioners to successfully conduct...

  11. Chapter 7 The Cult of Health and its Rituals
    (pp. 131-146)

    Émile Durkheim predicted that a ‘cult of humanity’ will eventually take on the role played by traditional religions in premodern societies. This chapter pulls the threads of the argument in this book together by positioning public health as that contemporary religion — the cult of humanity (see Dew 2007 for an earlier expression of this argument). Viewing public health in this light explains the tensions of contemporary public health that have been explored in previous chapters, such as between advocacy and science, and equity and efficiency. Insight is provided into the uneasy relationship between clinical practice and health promotion. In addition,...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-170)
  13. Index
    (pp. 171-180)