Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 299–312 | Cite as

Biopower, Normalization, and HPV: A Foucauldian Analysis of the HPV Vaccine Controversy

  • Kimberly S. Engels


This article utilizes the Foucauldian concepts of biopower and normalization to give an analysis of the debate surrounding the controversial administration of the HPV vaccine to adolescents. My intention is not to solve the problem, rather to utilize a Foucauldian framework to bring various facets of the issue to light, specifically the way the vaccine contributes to strategies of power in reference to how young adults develop within relationships of power. To begin, the article provides an overview of the Foucauldian concepts of biopower and normalization, including how these two strategies of power were present in the administration of the smallpox vaccine in the 19th century. Next, information about HPV and the history of the current controversy in the United States is presented. Lastly, the article presents an analysis of the strategies of biopower and normalization present in the debate on HPV, including an emphasis on how the vaccination is similar to, and different from, 19th century smallpox vaccination. It also explores the way that mechanisms of disease control affect and are affected by individual subjects, in this case, adolescents.


Foucault Biopower Normalization Human papillomavirus 



I would like to extend thanks to Dr. Pol Vandevelde for his encouragement and assistance with this article in its various stages, including his detailed and insightful feedback. I would also like to thank Dr. Kristin Haglund for sharing her time and expertise on adolescent health with me, which significantly improved this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marquette UniversityWauwatosaUSA

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