Knowledge: after following this course the student has an insight in:
- The student knows the difference between the descriptive and prescriptive meanings of normality, and can explain how they can be intertwined.
- The student can explicate conceptions of normality and abnormality that underlie contemporary medical practices and views on health and disease.
- The student has basic knowledge about specific cases (including autism, medically unexplained symptoms, etc.) and their cultural framings.
- The student understands and can explain several basic concepts and theories such as labelling effects, medicalization, normal distribution, and cross-cultural relativity.
- The student knows about and can give examples of historical and socio-cultural differences in conceptions of normality.
Skills: after following this course the student is able to:
- The student understands what norms are and how they work.
- The student is able to read and analyze scientific medical and theoretical texts.
- The student is able to detect and critically evaluate the assumptions on what is normal and abnormal which underlie positions in debates concerning health and healthcare.
- The student is able to write an academic paper, using literature from the course and beyond.
Character building: The student will have gained a sensitivity for the (normative) assumptions on normality and abnormality which underlie present-day medical practices around health and disease, and for the impact of socio-cultural contexts on such norms. The student will also have an awareness of the diversity of views on normal and abnormal.
Medicine deals with the abnormal, the unwanted, with what is disordered, with abnormal bodies, and with abnormal thoughts and behaviours. This takes place within the typically unexamined practice of distinguishing the normal from the abnormal. But what is normal and abnormal? Is it simply a descriptive matter of majority and minority or is what counts normal inherently normative? When is the abnormal a disorder, disease, disability, or disfigurement, and when is it a mere difference? In this course we will use various case studies (autism, disability, menopause, depression, grief, eating disorders, medically unexplained physical symptoms, and sexual dysfunction) and theories to tease out what conceptions of the normal and abnormal are presupposed in the practice of present-day Western medicine. This includes both somatic medicine and psychiatry. We will look at the politics of normality (who gets to decide what is and isn’t normal?) and at historical, linguistic, racial, gendered, cultural and socio-economic differences in making this distinction.