Janet K. ShimHeart-Sick: The Politics of Risk, Inequality, and Heart Disease

New York University Press, 2014

by Carla Nappi on November 27, 2014

Janet K. Shim

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyJanet K. Shim’s new book juxtaposes the accounts of epidemiologists and lay people to consider the roles of race, class, and gender (among other things) in health and illness. Heart-Sick: The Politics of Risk, Inequality, and Heart Disease (New York University Press, 2014) integrates several kinds of sources into a theoretically-informed sociological investigation of inequality and cardiovascular disease, including interviews with epidemiologists and people of color who are dealing in different ways with the disease, participant observation at conferences and health education events, and engagement with discourses of cultural and social theory. Shim considers the points of commonality and divergence among lay and epidemiological communities in terms of how each group conceptualizes the nature of social and cultural difference, the significance of difference for health and disease, and the reliability of different forms of knowledge. In the process, Heart-Sick places these accounts into dialogue with theories of biopower and biopolitics, intersectionality (a notion that addresses how “interlocking systems of oppression shape both the distribution of chances and of risk”), and fundamental causality (a concept that considers social conditions as fundamental causes of disease). The result is a masterfully articulated and clearly argued study that will be of interest to sociologists of science and medicine, historians, and curious readers interested in becoming better informed about the processes through which we have come to understand our bodies and selves and the consequences of those processes for research and treatment of heart disease.

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