Medicalization

The term “medicalization” came into popular and academic use in the 1970s and can perhaps be first traced to medical sociologist Ivan Illich’s book Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemeses (1975). Illich used the term in his discussion of “iatrogenesis,” the ways that medicine itself may make social and biological conditions worse as a result of medical intervention. In his book The Medicalization of Society, Peter Conrad defines medicalization as “a process by which nonmedical problems become defined and treated as medical problems, usually in terms of illness and disorders” (2007, 4).

The medicalization of disability, then, refers to how individuals with disabilities have been categorized as “sick” and placed under the jurisdiction of the medical establishment and medical professionals. This model views disability solely through the lens of impairment and is undoubtedly related to what sociologist Arthur Frank (1995) has critiqued as medicine’s investment in the “restitution narrative”: the …

This essay may be found on page 120 of the printed volume.

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