Inequalities created in bio-medicine as the body business

Social Inequalities, Health and Health Care Delivery

ISBN: 978-0-76230-957-3, eISBN: 978-1-84950-172-9

ISSN: 0275-4959

Publication date: 13 November 2002


This paper uses a historical analysis of medical writing to argue that use of categories of age, sex, and race in bio-medical research creates and perpetuates inequalities. I consider these categories from a view of philosophy of science for control and attribution of causal significance. Age, sex, and race are social constructions that reflect elements of biological reductionism. The role of biological reductionism in marginalization has been severely criticized in areas of social life such as work, education, class, family, and crime. Biology can be criticized for the same problem and the way it perpetuates inequalities within bio-medical research and treatment. I trace this to a problem of unit, the attribution of social processes of age, sex, and race to a body. Medicine by its mandate and everyday practices is in the business of bodies. Skin becomes a functional boundary. Problems arise when this functional boundary is used without consideration of the social landscape that goes into making choices about which body goes into which category. Recent work on the concept of racialization provides a theoretical framework to think about age, sex, and race as verbs.


Hanson, B. (2002), "Inequalities created in bio-medicine as the body business", Jacobs Kronenfeld, J. (Ed.) Social Inequalities, Health and Health Care Delivery (Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Vol. 20), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 29-43.

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