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Health, policy and emotion
  1. Agnes Arnold-Forster1,
  2. Michael Brown2,
  3. Alison Moulds3
  1. 1Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2History, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
  3. 3Independent Scholar, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael Brown; m.brown23{at}

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Context and purpose

Not so very long ago, the idea of publishing a special issue on the topic of healthcare, policy and the emotions might have seemed odd, ridiculous even. Healthcare and policy would certainly have sat happily enough together. After all, healthcare has always had a political dimension. It has never been a simple dyad of patient and practitioner. From its very inception, healthcare has been embedded in a complex web of relationships with community, civic and state authority. Faced with devastating epidemic (as well as endemic) disease, ancient, medieval and early modern cities sought to harness medical knowledge to the benefit of the civic polity, while, as states grew in authority and ambition throughout the 18th century, medical practitioners recognised that health might be considered as a function of governance. Such associations were solidified as the 19th and 20th centuries witnessed the rise of mass societies and as states came to see the routine health of their citizens as a matter of strategic significance. Moreover, since the mid-20th century, we have seen the development of increasingly complex and bureaucratised systems of healthcare, some of them global in scope, which are deemed to require active management, leading to the development of entirely new forms of knowledge and expertise that serve as an adjunct to (not to say determinant of) the normative clinical dimensions of healthcare delivery.

But if healthcare and policy sit well enough together, what do the emotions have to do with either? Certainly, in the field of healthcare, emotions have not, until relatively recently, been given a great deal of consideration. Generally speaking, since the ‘golden age of medicine’ of the early 20th century, healthcare, at least within the conventions of Western biomedicine, has been conceived as the application of rational solutions to technical problems. Bodies are, according to …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.