Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 341–352 | Cite as

Medicalization and epistemic injustice

  • Alistair Wardrope
Scientific Contribution


Many critics of medicalization (the process by which phenomena become candidates for medical definition, explanation and treatment) express concern that the process privileges individualised, biologically grounded interpretations of medicalized phenomena, inhibiting understanding and communication of aspects of those phenomena that are less relevant to their biomedical modelling. I suggest that this line of critique views medicalization as a hermeneutical injustice—a form of epistemic injustice that prevents people having the hermeneutical resources available to interpret and communicate significant areas of their experience. Interpreting the critiques in this fashion shows they frequently fail because they: neglect the ways in which medicalization may not obscure, but rather illuminate, individuals’ experiences; and neglect the testimony of those experiencing first-hand medicalized problems, thus may be guilty of perpetrating testimonial injustice. However, I suggest that such arguments are valuable insofar as they highlight the unwarranted epistemic privilege frequently afforded to medical institutions and medicalized models of phenomena, and a consequent need for greater epistemic humility on the part of health workers and researchers.


Medicalization Hermeneutical injustice Testimonial injustice Enhancement Psychiatric diagnosis Health promotion Epistemic humility 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Medical SchoolThe University of SheffieldSheffieldUK

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