The health/power/criminality-nexus in the state of exception
The positioning of the ‘other’ as a dangerous vector of disease is a long-standing trope. This has existed both in racial terms, such as the 1905 Aliens Act, and for others positioned as on the outliers of society, such as sex workers, under the Contagious Diseases Acts 1864, 1866, 1869 (Hamilton, 1978). The public health system has long been used as a system of control, alongside its self-described role as existing for the betterment of population health. Similarly, other aspects of our health system have long functioned both as a foundational part of the welfare state, and as key perpetrators of racial injustice and part of the carceral state. This is most obvious in the psychiatric system, where there continues to be a disproportionate detention of black men (Singh, 2007). Injustice, surveillance, and even mass detention, that is enacted within a health systems framework is rarely given the same critical focus as other systems of power, such as the criminal justice system – which has been highlighted by the reality that various recent reports into racial discrimination only give a brief mention to the role of healthcare systems in perpetrating various injustices (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2016). During the pandemic the healthcare system has increasingly been used as a justification for advancing a state apparatus of biopower, and has experienced little resistance from the organised left.
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