The Medicalization of the Human Condition: Biopolitics Before and During COVID-19

In our study, we look at the phenomenon of medicalization, with particular regard to biopolitics. Medicalization refers to all tendencies in the context of which negative or undesirable phenomena related to the human condition are constructed as problems to be corrected through medical science and medical interventions. In connection with medicalization, we are dealing with an attitude that can potentially be extended to all phenomena labeled undesirable. As sociologist Peter Conrad points out, medicalization means more than just an increase in the power of the medical profession. It represents rather a general outlook shared by both doctors and patients. All individual and social problems come to be categorized as pathologies. Engaging with the works of Michel Foucault, we interpret the phenomenon of medicalization through a biopolitical lens. Foucault registers the appearance of the “medical gaze” in European modernity, which divides all phenomena in terms of pathological vs. healthy binary values. Nowadays, we can also talk about “surveillance medicine”. Instead of diseases and disorders appearing in an explicit form, the potential tendency to disease can now also be revealed to the all-seeing medical eye. In addition to the existing pathology, the prevention of future pathologies and invisible asymptomatic conditions are emphasized. We analyze biopolitical responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as resulting in a medicalization of politics.

Released: Replika 129, 43–64.