How to Investigate the Temporalities of Health

Tiago Moreira


This paper examines the way in which different temporalities interact in the production of health risks and the "risk identities" that they entail. My point of departure is contemporary health research, practice and policy and its focus on categories based on the calculation of a probability of developing a given condition—risk conditions—rather than on the clinical detection of existing signs of such conditions. The emergence of this new form of medicine means that "illness […] comes to inhabit a temporal space" (ARMSTRONG, 1995), in which potential events in the future are identified, managed and experienced in the present. The paper explores the complex processes that structure this "temporal space" through an analysis of two case studies: the technical controversies around hypertension and prodromal or preclinical dementia. It does so by analysing the dynamics of these controversies and suggesting that they are underpinned by a diversity of contrasting, yet interrelated calculations of the temporal. I start by considering how, in the health care domain, the emergence of what has been called the neoliberal form of governmentality (LEMKE, 2001) is predicated upon calculative practices that are themselves sustained by an intensification of epidemiological surveillance, screening and routine measurement of health indicators. In this section, I argue that the comparison between the two cases included in the paper is essential to understand how two categories which seem to belong to the same late modern, neoliberal form of organising embodiment and political subjectivity differently deploy the temporalities that govern "risk identities". In the main sections, I describe three different ways in which hypertension and prodromal dementia are understood: as a population problem, as an economic problem, and as a problem of professional labour. In the conclusion, I examine how the different temporalities deployed by these knowledge practices are mutually dependent, and draft some possible implications of this conclusion for further research on health risk and identity.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0701139


risk; health; temporalities; hypertension; mild cognitive impairment

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Copyright (c) 2007 Tiago Moreira

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