Edgar H. and Lillye Mae Vaughn
Lectureship in Medical Philosophy and Morality
A Pathological State
Gabriel Winant, PhD
Department of History
The University of Chicago
Thursday, May 11, 2023
12:00pm - 1:00pm
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"A Pathological State” engages the politics of public health during the years between 1910 and 1940. It argues that the control of disease offered a powerful and early medium in which the American state could partially see and regulate social class. While there really existed what I describe as a distinctive “proletarian disease environment,” it was a highly gradated, blurry, and ambient phenomenon: to distinguish between sick and well in this environment was not at all straightforward, and many individuals lived on both sides of this line. Nevertheless, the control of disease in general—and syphilis and tuberculosis most importantly—became important and politically fraught mechanisms through which employers and ultimately government drew and reinforced the sick-well distinction, as a way of stabilizing labor supply and indeed class relations overall. State capacity expanded, particularly in the late 1930s, to sustain this distinction, which rested, critically, upon behavioral questions more than any other. Working-class economic well-being thus became increasingly linked to social compliance and conformity on the behavioral questions surrounding these diseases—while, correspondingly, physical pathology became the correlates of social pathology and exclusion.