June 22, 2020

State agencies and other institutions have long used concerns about health and disease to govern and control populations – as decades of research on medicalization have shown. Whereas formerly the rationale for medical intervention was to prevent illness and fight disease, nowadays it also involves promoting health and well-being – closely related, even overlapping concepts that can involve everything from bodily care (nutrition, activity, sleep) to mental health and happiness. This new emphasis on well-being has broadened the scope for political action and opened up the field of health politics to a whole range of previously uninvolved actors. When reflecting on health-related utopias and dystopias, one confronts central questions concerning the future status of biomedicine. Today, biomedicine is probably more widespread and hegemonic than ever. Yet, its boundaries are also porous in the direction of psychology, neuroscience, algorithm management, and big data; and questions of well-being are intimately linked to attempts to achieve economic efficiency and improve governance. Our projects concern efforts to increase well-being in Asia and Africa, and they interpret the social effects of a series of activities, such as taking action in response to genomic test results, tracking bodily functions, or adopting new techniques to enhance mental health.

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