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Public Health & Its Discontents

This lecture course interrogates the centrality of gender, sexuality and race to conceptions of “the public health.” We begin every other week with an examination of a current “public health crisis” (e.g. the Flint water crisis; the opioid and obesity ‘epidemics’; the problem of (campus) sexual assault; health disparities in STD/I rates of transmission; the epidemic of ‘gun violence’; etc.) and consider the range of official responses to, and dissident interpretations of, each crisis in order to assess the current contours of “public health” discourse in the U.S. and the status of ongoing debates over (seemingly self-evident) terms such as “risk,” “health,” “publics” and “counter-publics.” We then trace the historical antecedents of each crisis, focusing on contemporaneous ideologies of race, gender &/or sexuality in structuring public health policies then in order to assess how these continue to inform current debates. In other words, while this course serves as an introduction to the key terms, institutions, and practices of “public health” in the U.S. from the 19th century to the present, the course is structured as a history of the present.