CCHU9002 Humanities

Battles for Bodies: The Birth of Surveillance Society

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

What is the state’s final frontier? How and why have governments around the world been vested with the authority to manage the most intimate aspects of our existence: from the food we eat to our sexual behaviour? What has the impact of this encroachment been on our sense of self? Engaging with these questions from an historical perspective provides a critical lens for re-evaluating our own relationship to society and the state, as well as furnishing a context for considering the extent to which we are ever fundamentally “free” to possess our own bodies. Exploring the birth of “surveillance society” enables us to reflect upon – and challenge – the inherited assumptions which underpin our reliance on government and our aspirations for personal autonomy. This course ranges from the formation of the modern state in Europe and the techonologies it developed for managing populations, to global health surveillance and recent biomedical advances which have resulted in progressively interventionist governmental measures, with profound social, political and ethical implications. Topics include: surveillance; “medical police” and state-sponsored interventions in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe; the invention of the “population” as a collective body; colonialism and the global exportation of ideas about what is “normal”; “healthy citizens”: the coercive state and the democratization of society; and, finally, the limits of public health in the twenty-first century.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze the historical role of the state in regulating health.
  2. Reflect upon and critically consider the relationship between health and societal organization.
  3. Apply comparative historical approaches to examine the political, social and ethical issues which underlie current public health debates.
  4. Reflect upon and critically consider how Western and non-Western health systems have impacted upon each other.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 38
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 30
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Continual assessment and task focused activities 30
Online portfolio 20
Course project 50

Required Reading

Extracts from:

  • Arnold, D. (1993). Colonizing the body: State medicine and epidemic disease in nineteenth-century India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Bashford, A., & Levine, P. (2010). The Oxford handbook of the history of eugenics. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Casper, M., & Moore, L. J. (2009). Missing bodies: The politics of visibility. New York: New York University Press. [Electronic resource].
  • Elbe, S. (2010). Security and global health. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Fairchild, A. L., Bayer, R., & Colgrove, A. (2007). Searching eyes: Privacy, the state, and disease surveillance in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Farmer, P. (2005). Pathologies of power: Health, human rights, and the new war on the poor. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Foucault, M., & Rabinow, P. (1991). The Foucault reader. London: Penguin Books.
  • Gates, K. A. (2011). Our biometric future: Facial recognition technology and the culture of surveillance. New York: New York University Press.
  • Lemke, T. (2011). Biopolitics: An advanced introduction. New York: New York University Press.
  • Lupton, D. (1995). The imperative of health: Public health and the regulated body. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Lyon, D. (2007). Surveillance studies: An overview. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Porter, D. (1999). Health, civilization, and the state: A history of public health from ancient to modern times. London; New York: Routledge.
  • Rosen, G. (1993). A history of public health (Expanded ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Winter, J. M. (2013). The global spread of fertility decline: Population, fear, and uncertainty. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Youde, J. R. (2010). Biopolitical surveillance and public health in international politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Recommended Reading

Extracts from:

  • Clough, P. T., & Willse, C. (2011). Beyond biopolitics: Essays on the governance of life and death. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Corbin, A. (1986). The foul and the fragrant: Odor and the French social imagination. Leamington Spa: Berg.
  • Durbach, N. (2005). Bodily matters: The anti-vaccination movement in England, 1853-1907. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Hamlin, C. (1998). Public health and social justice in the age of Chadwick: Britain, 1800-1854. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hardy, A. (1993). The epidemic streets: Infectious disease and the rise of preventive medicine, 1856-1900. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Hardy, A. (2001). Health and medicine in Britain since 1860. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
  • Harrison, M. (1994). Public health in British India: Anglo-Indian preventive medicine, 1859-1914. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • La Berge, A. E. F. (1992). Mission and method: The early nineteenth-century French public health movement. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Leung, G., & Bacon-Shone, J. (2006). Hong Kong’s health system: Reflections, perspectives and visions. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Macpherson, K. L. (1987). A wilderness of marshes: The origins of public health in Shanghai, 1843-1893. Hong Kong; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Manderson, L. (1996). Sickness and the state: Health and illness in colonial Malaya, 1870-1940. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Metzl, J. M., & Kirkland, A. (2010). Against health: How health became the new morality. New York: New York University Press.
  • Petersen, A. R., & Lupton, D. (1996). The new public health: Health and self in the age of risk. London: Sage.
  • Porter, D. (1994). The history of public health and the modern state. Amsterdam; Atlanta, Ga.: Editions Rodopi.
  • Serlin, D. (2010). Imagining illness: Public health and visual culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr C.L. Tsang
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2864
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr C.L. Tsang
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2864