Locating the State in Health and Medicine

Jane Pryma, University of Connecticut

How do medical experts and health policymakers understand the boundaries of state power? In this presentation, I isolate and identify state power as a type of institutional power acting on, with, and through the space occupied by transnational medical experts in different national contexts. I then seek to understand how medical experts perceive the role of political institutions in their work. In this sense, I chart how medical experts define and respond to state power. In so doing, I take up Morgan and Orloff’s (2017) provocation to “disaggreagate and reaggregate” states “without losing sight of that which binds them together,” applying a “many hands of the state” approach to analyzing state power in health and medicine. By identifying how medical experts understand the contours of state power, I argue that sociologists can more precisely analyze how political institutions shape health politics, and, inversely, how experts’ beliefs about state power shape the knowledges produced by networks of medical expertise. An expanding canon of science and technology studies scholars trace the role of political institutions in science, health, and medicine, and a burgeoning literature examines how science, health policy and medical practice have informed and been informed by state (and empire) building projects. However, this research typically asks how strategies of governance enroll expert knowledge or how expert knowledge production contributes to state formation. In contrast, I ask how experts themselves define and respond to the power of state institutions. I will argue that these definitions and responses shape the production of medical knowledge and global health policy. Moreover, identifying experts’ beliefs about state power allow sociologists of health and medicine to examine how views about state institutions (in aggregate) exert symbolic power in networks of medical expertise.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 148. Reaggregating the State?: A Progress Report