The discursive formation of the body in the history of medicine

David Michael Levin*, George F. Solomon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The principal argument of the present paper is that the human body is as much a reflective formation of multiple discourses as it is an effect of natural and environmental processes. This paper examines the implications of this argument, and suggests that recognizing the body in this light can be illuminating, not only for our conception of the body, but also for our understanding of medicine. Since medicine is itself a discursive formation, a science with both a history, and a future, it is argued that much can be learned by reflecting on the progression of models, or “paradigm-shifts,” in terms of which modern medicine has articulated the human body that figures at the heart of its discourse. Four historical periods of medicine will be considered, each one governed by its own distinctive paradigm. It is argued, finally, that, with the emergence of behavioural medicine, and, more particularly, psychoneuroimmunology, a new discursive formation in medicine, one can see a new conceptualization of the human body beginning to take shape; and that this new figure of the body makes it possible for the very first time to conceive the construction of testable hypotheses regarding correlations between the objective body of science and the phenomenological body of experienced meaning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-537
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Medicine and Philosophy (United Kingdom)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1990


  • Body of experienced meaning
  • Discursive formation
  • Immunocompetence
  • Objective body
  • Psychoneuro-immunology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'The discursive formation of the body in the history of medicine'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this