Dew, Kevin. The cult and science of public health: a sociological investigation. vii, 179 pp., bibliogr. Oxford, New York: Berghahn Books, 2012. £42.00 (cloth) [Book Review]
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Pearson, G. (2013) Dew, Kevin. The cult and science of public health: a sociological investigation. vii, 179 pp., bibliogr. Oxford, New York: Berghahn Books, 2012. £42.00 (cloth) [Book Review]. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 19(2), pp. 422-423.
By exploring the evolving role of public health, this book argues that it has come to function as Durkheim's ‘cult of humanity’. The ‘cult of humanity’ refers to a belief in ‘the unity of society’ (p. 7) and a shared humanity despite increasingly differentiated individuals and roles in society. In this perspective, public health not only is a science, underpinned by ‘rationality’ and strict methodologies, but functions as a religion as it relies on the belief that all individuals deserve access to health by virtue of their unity and shared humanity. It acts as a moral force aimed at alleviating uncertainty and suffering and constraining other selfish forces. Rather than a Foucauldian analysis, this book offers a perspective on the function of public health not just as a site of power and control, but as a moral force and a means of resistance in itself. In doing so, the book explores tensions both within public health and between public health, the state, and the population, and contrasts both its positive and negative functions.