Appeals to autonomy and obedience: continuity and change in governing technologies in Danish and Swedish health promotion

Med Hist. 2011 Jan;55(1):27-40. doi: 10.1017/s0025727300006037.


The increasingly used concept new public health indicates that a fundamental change has occurred in the goals and methods of disease prevention and health promotion. The change is often said to imply less expert-driven governing of citizens. In this article, governing technologies in the field of public health in Denmark and Sweden are analysed to investigate whether substantial changes have taken place in the governing efforts. In the endeavours unfolded in relation to health examinations for children and pregnant women during the last eighty years, no apparent evidence exists of a significant change in governing technologies. Regulatory, expert-driven and empowering technologies have been used during the whole period; additionally, appeals to autonomy, responsibility and obedience as well as to trust in authorities co-exist throughout the period. The fundamental change is the huge increase in the health authorities' governing ambitions.

Keywords: Autonomy; Children; Denmark; Exercise of Power; Governing Technologies; Health Examinations; Health Promotion; Michel Foucault; New Public Health; Obedience; Pregnant Women; Responsibility; Sweden; Twentieth Century.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Denmark
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physical Examination
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Health Administration / trends*
  • Sweden