Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

From Stargazing to Navel-Gazing: Self, Health and Diminished Subjectivity

Stephen Bowler.

There is no health beyond the human self. Uncoupled from a consciousness of the legitimacy and purpose of subjectivity, health can only be an abstract ideal. Objectively speaking, therefore, there is no such thing as health.

Health, however, is alive and well at the level of public discourse. It waxes as old institutional and informal norms wane. A perceived frailty of the body politic is generalised and internalised at the level of the individual, for whom invitations to infirmity are now everyday events. Transcendental, ideational aspects of human subjectivity, in this respect, are brought down to earth and reminded of their organic origins and responsibilities. Thus humbled, the gaze of subjectivity turns inward, to the struggle with nature that is the human body, and its inevitable failings.

One consequence of this is the medicalization of everyday human unhappiness. The perceived benefits of more intimate institutional modes of engagement between elite and distant public are expressed in the rise of therapeutic politics. The notion of the healthy self reflects and reinforces such an agenda, and contributes to the further diminution of the existential precondition for health itself, active human subjectivity.


Stephen Bowler  (United Kingdom)

Stephen Bowler's PhD was on nationalism. He is currently writing a book on the medicalization of everyday life.

  • Health
  • Self
  • Subjectivity
  • Medicalization

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)