The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders

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9780801885853: The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders

Over the past half-century, the social terrain of health and illness has been transformed. What were once considered normal human events and common human problems―birth, aging, menopause, alcoholism, and obesity―are now viewed as medical conditions. For better or worse, medicine increasingly permeates aspects of daily life.

Building on more than three decades of research, Peter Conrad explores the changing forces behind this trend with case studies of short stature, social anxiety, "male menopause," erectile dysfunction, adult ADHD, and sexual orientation. He examines the emergence of and changes in medicalization, the consequences of the expanding medical domain, and the implications for health and society. He finds in recent developments―such as the growing number of possible diagnoses and biomedical enhancements―the future direction of medicalization.

Conrad contends that the impact of medical professionals on medicalization has diminished. Instead, the pharmaceutical and biotechnical industries, insurance companies and HMOs, and the patient as consumer have become the major forces promoting medicalization. This thought-provoking study offers valuable insight into not only how medicalization got to this point but also how it may continue to evolve.

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About the Author:

Peter Conrad is the Harry Coplan Professor of Social Sciences at Brandeis University. He is the coauthor of Deviance and Medicalization: From Badness to Sickness and coeditor of The Double-Edged Helix, also published by Johns Hopkins.


"An accessible yet nuanced introduction to a fascinating and important topic. Readers do not need any background in medicine or academic sociology to appreciate Conrad's inquiry, and the experience of living in the 21st century United States is enough to understand what he's talking about."

(Benjamin J. Lovett Metapsychology)

"Conrad's fine work investigates and illuminates this baleful phenomenon."

(A. Mark Clarfield, MD, FRCPC JAMA)

"This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking book."

(H. Russell Searight PsycCRITIQUES)

"The text is useful, especially for medical students."


"Recommended reading for practicing physicians, or better yet, for physicians in training. The so-called gatekeepers need to be reminded (or initially trained to understand) that reductionist medical perspectives are problematic and that the best solutions account for the social complexity that is inherent in the human condition."

(Michael Fendrich, Ph.D. New England Journal of Medicine)

"An invaluable synopsis of 30 years' scholarship... Clearly written and presented so that it should be accessible to students in both sociology and health studies... An immense contribution to medical sociology."

(Robert Dingwall Society)

"Conrad's accomplishment is significant. The Medicalization of Society is simply the most lucid treatise on the patterns and consequences of medicalization to date. It is also a much needed warning about the darker side of medicalization."

(Regina Smardon Culture)

"From masculinity to underperformance, from the surge in psychotropic drugs for children to the rise of adult ADHD and more, Peter Conrad takes readers on a welcome and necessary tour of the spread of medicalization. His cogent analysis of changing objects of knowledge and transformed identity is an essential guide to shifting ideas about normal and pathological, health and disease."

(Sharon Kaufman, University of California, San Francisco)

"A lucid overview of a complex field that astutely recounts and analyzes the latest twists and turns in the long saga of our love/hate relationship with the health professions, the pharmaceutical industry, and the corporate organization of health care. I prescribe this book for anyone who has ever seen a doctor or popped a pill."

(Steven Epstein, author of Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge)

"Peter Conrad is one of the leading scholars of medicalization today. He mines a deep, rich vein of modern American society; his efforts yield pure sociological gold. This engaging and comprehensive book will endure not only as the intellectual foundation on which future generations of sociologists will build but also as a shining exemplar of lucid theory and the highest sociological craft."

(Elizabeth Armstrong, Princeton University)

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