Den sunde bys genealogi: en historisk analyse af moderne folkesundhedspolitik

Martin Frandsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The title of this thesis is: ”A Genealogy of Urban Health”. My starting point is the present public health program of the municipality of Copenhagen. With reference to it’s poor score in international comparisons of increase in mean life expectancy the program diagnoses the current state of the health of the urban population of the Danish capital as ”alarming”. On these grounds it calls for a comprehensive mobilisation and range of interventions aiming to change the unhealthy lifestyle and everyday conduct of the population and bring it up to international standards of health. Taking it’s cue from the later Michel Foucault and his studies in ’governmentality’ and ’biopolitics’ the thesis sets out to question the grounds of present public health government through historical investigation. The birth of modern public health is traced back to 18th century reason of state and it’s concern for the increase in the size and capacity for labour of the population, for the purpose of strengthening the state and making the country flourish. Influenced by these thoughts the medical professionals of the time advance a program for a ’public health police’ to enlighten their fellow citizens on health matters, to monitor and discipline the urban poor and to promote healthy urban living conditions in general. A central element in the health police is the invention of new forms of knowledge such as medical topography and statistics that chart the urban territory and it’s relation to the fertility, morbidity and mortality of the population that is to be governed. The second part of the historical investigation traces how the concern for the life and health of the urban population survives and is transformed through the transition to liberal democratic form of government in the mid 19th century. A liberal public health emerges which has to balance the principles of personal liberties, private property rights and free market regulation with the rising demands to improve the social living conditions in the neighbourhoods of the working class poor which is a fertile breeding ground for epidemics that pose a threat to the entire urban population. Supported by a rising body of knowledge and statistical evidence the medical professionals renew their proposals for a reformed public health care arrangement. Having attempted to upset the naturalness and self-evidence of our current public health government through the genealogical analyses, the thesis concludes by putting forward some seldom addressed political questions implicated in this practice. While recognizing that huge improvements have been brought about by public health regulations through it’s modern history, I 10 nonetheless argue that more political attention and debate most be directed toward the normalising tendencies inherent in the attempt to continuously promote the health of the entire urban population. By drawing attention to how this government takes place through the mobilisation of our capacities for self-government as subjects belonging to urban communities I argue further, that these liberal forms of government work in ways that need to be contested. While claiming only to empower and to free us from former paternal practices of government, they simultaneously work by making us assume responsibility for problems and goals put forward by public health authorities based on biopolitical norms.

Educations, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) GraduateGeography, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date1 Jan 2004
SupervisorsPeter Triantafillou & John Larsen


  • Genealogi
  • Folkesundhed
  • Sundhedspolitik