The Medicalization of Insecurity

Authored by: Stefan Elbe , Nadine Voelkner

Routledge Handbook of Global Health Security

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415645478
eBook ISBN: 9780203078563
Adobe ISBN: 9781136155574


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As the contributions to this volume demonstrate, the notion of “health security” is increasingly shaping the formulation and implementation of international health policy (Bell 2012; Davies 2008, 2010; Weir & Mykhalovskiy 2010). This “securitization” of health has given rise to a growing number of studies drawing upon securitization theory (Buzan et al. 1998) in order to analyze the act of labeling health issues as security threats and to further trace how this security framing shapes their contemporary governance. David Fidler has even suggested that global health governance has entered a “post-securitization” phase, in the sense that it is now widely taken for granted that health issues constitute a security problem (2007:41). Whilst much of the security studies literature on health security has so far righty focused on the dynamics of securitization, the rise of health security should be seen as a more complex social phenomenon – and one that cannot be reduced solely to the latest example of securitization in world politics. From a sociological point of view, this chapter suggests, the rise of health security also represents a critical instance of “medicalization” insofar as the discourse of health security is a site where the social forces of medicine are further expanding and intensifying in international politics – to the point that they are now also beginning to shape a range of security discourses and practices. This chapter therefore advances an alternative reading of the rise of health security as marking what we might call the “medicalization of insecurity.” It traces, in other words, the process through which the problem of security in global politics is itself coming to be partially framed and treated broadly as a medical problem through ongoing efforts to strengthen health security.

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