Deviance as Disease

The medicalization of sex and crime

Authored by: Jana Funke

The Routledge History of Disease

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415720014
eBook ISBN: 9781315543420
Adobe ISBN: 9781134857876


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Behaviours that are ‘deviant’ in that they breach social standards have frequently been understood as forms of disease with underlying and potentially treatable medical causes. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ or ‘undesirable’ behaviours are classified as forms of disease: excessive drinking, smoking, eating, gambling or sexual activity are commonly labelled as addictions; hyperactivity in children and, increasingly, adults, is often viewed as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); grief and suicide can be seen as outcomes of depression and are thus linked to mental illness. 1 The relation between deviance and disease raises fundamental questions about the validity of disease categories and the constitution of medical knowledge and authority: how and why are certain behaviours framed as medical problems? What is at stake in labelling behaviours as forms of disease? Which actors, forces and structures are involved in legitimating claims that deviant behaviours should be understood in medical terms?

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