An unproblematized truth: Foucault, biopolitics, and the making of a sociological canon
(2022) Social Theory and Health
Foucault’s argument that a major break occurred in the nature of power in the European Eighteenth century—an unprecedented socialization of medicine and concern for the health of bodies and populations, the birth of biopolitics—has become since the 1990s a dominant narrative among sociologists but is rarely if ever scrutinized in its premises. This article problematizes Foucault’s periodization about the politics of health and the way its story has been solidified into an uncritical account. Building on novel historiographic work, it challenges the modernist bias of histories of biopolitics and public health and considers an earlier and more plural history of collective practices of health of which the story told by Foucault is just one important episode. Finally, it discusses the implications of this revised model for wider sociological debates on the link between modernity, health and the body. © 2022, The Author(s).
Biopolitics; Foucault; History; Medicalization; Premodern/modern; Public health