Models And Trust: Highlighting Issues Across Science

Healthism, Elite Capture, and the Pitfalls of an Expansive Notion of Health

Quill Kukla (Georgetown University)

Many theorists and organizations have moved towards an expansive conception of health, modeled on the WHO’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”. While there are advantages to this kind of flexible definition, in this presentation, I will explore the ways in which an expansive conception of health can be weaponized as a tool of oppression, surveillance, and social and embodied discipline. I look at four case studies in which this weaponization has been especially striking: healthy eating, mental health, healthy sexuality, and healthy gender identity. I argue that health is a concept that is especially vulnerable to what Olufemi Taiwo has called “elite capture,” wherein elites are able to hijack the meaning of socially important concepts, and use them to serve their own social interests.