The Social Force of Diagnosis

Concepts of disease have been used to impose political judgments. For example, in the United States prior to the

Civil War it was proposed that the flight of a slave to the North and the absence of a wholesome inclination to do effective plantation work were diseases for which explanatory accounts and treatments could be provided (Cartwright). Masturbation was once viewed as a serious disease for which castration, excision of the clitoris, and other invasive therapies were employed. Individuals were even determined to have died of masturbation, and postmortem findings "substantiated" this cause (Engelhardt, 1974). In the case of the diseases of slaves, the motivation may have been to protect slaves from punishment. In the case of masturbation, the influence of cultural values on the psychology of discovery was not appreciated.

Historical perspective can increase our awareness that medical practitioners and researchers have tended to "discover" what already was assumed. More recent political uses of disease concepts (e.g., in psychiatry) have been closely connected with repressive goals and political agendas of certain governments. Social employment of disease definitions is often meant to be benevolent, however, such as advocating a view of alcoholism and drug addiction as diseases so as to recruit the forces of medicine to aid in their control. Moreover, such conditions may be termed diseases in order to relieve alcoholics and drug addicts of the social opprobria that attend what is often viewed as immoral behavior.

Alcohol No More

Alcohol No More

Do you love a drink from time to time? A lot of us do, often when socializing with acquaintances and loved ones. Drinking may be beneficial or harmful, depending upon your age and health status, and, naturally, how much you drink.

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