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Health as moral economy in the long nineteenth century

Christopher Hamlin takes up the unstable and often polarised relationship between cultural experience and interpretation on the one hand, and biomedical objectivity on the other. In so doing, he draws attention to a phenomenon which is so frequently missing from current scholarship: embodied subjectivity. The chapter ranges widely from public health archives to literary texts, interrogating E. P. Thompson’s seminal concept of the ‘moral economy’ through the social history of health, and questioning how we might meaningfully register the experiences of those whose words and emotions are lost to history. Questioning the very voices and vocabularies through which the social history of health is constructed, Hamlin recognises both the usefulness and the limitations of our approaches to illness and the history of medicine, while adopting an integrative, holistic approach to notions of disease. Paralleling the historical figure of the nuisance inspector with the gamekeeper (or lover) in D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the tales of patients of Hardwicke Hospital, Dublin, with the complaints of Agnes Fleming in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, he opens up the possibilities of work which crosses literary and medical histories as a context in which the formation of an embodied subjectivity might be considered.

in Progress and pathology