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Deviance, Medicalization of

PJ McGann and Peter Conrad


Medicalization is the process whereby previously non-medical aspects of life come to be seen in medical terms, usually as disorders or illnesses. A wide range of phenomena has been medicalized , including normal life events (birth, death), biological processes (aging, menstruation), common human problems (learning and sexual difficulties), and forms of deviance. The medicalization of deviance thus refers to the process whereby non-normative or morally condemned appearance (obesity, unattractiveness, shortness), belief (mental disorder, racism), and conduct (drinking, gambling, sexual practices) come under medical jurisdiction. The tendency to see badness – whether immoral, sinful, or criminal – as illness is part of a broader historical trend from overtly punitive to ostensibly more humanitarian responses to deviance. Within this trend most scholars agree that medicalization has been on the increase. They disagree, though, as to why, to what degree, and with what consequences this is the case. It is clear, however, that medicalization processes are caught up in and complicate struggles to define and respond to deviance. Constructing deviance as illness confers a moral status different from crime or sin. As such, medicalization has implications for social control, power, knowledge, authority, and personal liberty. Deviance has been medicalized when it is defined in medical terms, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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