The Politics of Indeterminacy and the Right to Health

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Discussions of the framework and terminology associated with the right to health tend to treat the indeterminacy of ‘health’ as conceptual noise that the construction of effective policy must not focus on, but find ways of bracketing out. On this basis, the right to health is broadly regarded as a social and economic, rather than a civil and political right. This article draws critically on literature about the implications of developments in medical biotechnologies, to argue that a positive acknowledgement of the indeterminate character of health should transform, rather than simply hinder, the quality of debate over what is to be understood and expected in connection with a right to health. A focus on indeterminacy allows for the perception and the formulation of health-related demands that may not stem from the scarcity of material resources or technical means, but from the misplaced authority of particular voices in defining what possibilities are to be seriously envisaged. This proposition only becomes politically effective, it is argued, when ‘indeterminacy’ (and the capacity for normativity) is referred to life itself and not merely to social and moral judgements about life. Although more immediately pertinent to the concerns of relatively privileged populations, the focus on indeterminacy provides a key to generating a certain symmetry and complementarity of interest, across the privileged/underprivileged divide, in promoting health as a (human) right.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTheory Culture and Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2004


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