Is health education good for you? : the social construction of health education in the Brazilian national health system
This study is about the social construction of health education in the Brazilian national health system. Health education is examined as a social policy and as a health practice. The theoretical framework is based on the work of Michel Foucault, with special attention to the concepts of bio-power, bio-politics of the population and anatomo-politics of the human body. The thesis pursued is that health education represents a singular contribution to the exercise of bio-power through the health system. Its involvement with prevention and promotion of health, as well as its educational character, enhance the set of power techniques employed in the management of the individual and social body. The data presented are created by analysis of documents and surveys covering federal, state, and municipal levels of government in Brazil and also health centres. Interviews with policy-makers, health professionals, and users of the health system and the observation of two health centres as case studies are also sources of information. Health education policy contributes to expand the surveillance that the work of health professionals represents over any aspect of individual and community life. As a practice, health education can make use of prescriptive or participatory approaches to promote healthy life-styles. However, both of them discipline and normalize individuals and communities. This study also suggests in its conclusion that Foucault's concept of bio-power as power over life centred on the control of sex should be re-thought, focusing on health as the key element in the exercise of bio-power.