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Is social capital a useful tool for explaining the politics of public health in the twentieth century city?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. What is social capital?
  3. The interest of bonding social capital.
  4. Critiques of social capital.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

The development of ?politics of public health? is historically dated. As Foucault noted, it appeared with the broader emergence of the idea of ?population? which provides, in the modern era, the conceptual framework of health policies. The existence of a common concept, however, should not hide the evolution of public health and public health policies during the modern and contemporaneous eras. Indeed, Public health in the twentieth century does not face the same problems as in previous centuries. In the 19th century, infectious diseases were a central problem, closely related to that of cities. Cities were modified for questions of hygiene: Haussman's works in the 1860's in Paris for instance. In the 20th century, we might say to a certain extent that cities do not occupy the same centrality in hygiene questions, for public health issues changed: degenerative diseases are substituted to transmitted infectious diseases. The spatial question is to be taken differently then, for the issues of proximity and contamination largely disappear.

[...] ?norms of respect and networks of trusting relationships between people who are interacting across explicit, formal or institutionalized power or authority gradients in society.? How can this multidimensional notion of ?social capital? be applied to public health policies in the twentieth century city? One could be suspicious of the very concept. For instance it has been criticized by Navarro for being the mainstream product of the dominant ideology, with mainly conservative consequences if ever used at the political level. I will first present the interest of the use of the concept of social capital, and then explain why its use is necessarily limited II The interest of bonding social capital Materialist theories of health issues tend to focus only on economic and technological determinants of health. [...]


[...] An important illustration of the impact of bonding social capital on city health policies is the question of homicides. In ?Social capital, income inequality, and firearm violent crime?, Kennedy, Kawashi, Prothow- Smith, Lochner and Gupta discuss the issue of firearm violence as related to social capital and therefore to health inequalities. Firearm violence is a significant sociological phenomenon: violent behavior is the first cause of death among young black males and females (15-34 years old), and among the whole society, it constitutes the second cause of death for teenagers (10 to 19 years old). [...]


[...] In conclusion, we can say that social capital is not a very useful tool to understand or promote health policies. Bonding social capital, doubtless, can be an efficient factor of social cohesion among a community and have a positive impact on the health situation, and it is not only a liberal product to be forgotten. On the contrary, in many senses it is very close to the idea of class consciousness, and can be defended on that ground. True, the perverse effect of individualism remains: we should avoid promoting bonding social capital with rhetoric of self responsibility. [...]

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