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Hygiene as ideology : a critical look into hygiene as a tool of oppression

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Title: Hygiene as ideology : a critical look into hygiene as a tool of oppression
Author(s): Huotari, Edna
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master's Programme in Philosophy
Specialisation: Practical Philosophy
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2022
Hygiene as a phenomenon is constantly present in our lives but it is rarely questioned. This thesis explores the concept of hygiene as a large-scale, social phenomenon and as a tool of oppression. My approach stems from the tradition of critical theory, and therefore in this thesis I define hygiene as form of ideology and employ ideology critique to criticise it. I argue that hygiene is a form of abjection meaning that it is a tool to create boundaries between members of a certain group and others. Additionally, hygiene functions as a positive technology of power, since its practice is connected to striving towards the ideal of normalcy and it is enforced by individuals repeating hygienic practices. Hygiene creates hierarchies between different groups of people, because it categorizes some groups as cleaner or healthier than others. These categories have moral and political dimensions and therefore hygiene can create oppressive structures. To define hygiene as a form of ideology, I explore the discussion concerning the different definitions of ideology. Within my framework of critical theory, ideology is always something pejorative. I divide the main challenges that one faces when defining ideology into two: the normative and the epistemic challenges. The normative challenge asks why we should be concerned with ideology from a normative point of view: How is it harmful for us? The epistemic challenge is concerned with the falsity of ideology and the possibility of gaining knowledge, if ideology is something that can cloud our epistemic judgement. I argue that a solution to these challenges can be found in the definition of ideology formulated by Theodor W. Adorno. This definition claims that ideology is a form of identity thinking: A system where we falsely think that we are perceiving objects as they are. This is never the case, since our way of thinking is conceptual and therefore we always see things through concepts. Ideology as identity thinking creates concepts affected by our current economic structure. We falsely assume that they are accurately describing the world. This limits our view of what is and what could be. The solution to this is negative dialectics, a system of critique which contrasts the potential of concepts with how they are in the world. Through the negation of our conditions and their ideal concepts, we can see objects as constellations: as things constructed from pieces of history, societal and economic structures etc. From this perspective we can critique our current conditions. The main conclusion of the thesis is that hygiene can be used as a tool of oppression because it is a form of ideology. Ideology as identity thinking describes hygiene successfully, because hygiene functions through identifying particulars under its concepts. This can be oppressive since some of its concepts, like unhealthy, dirty and so on, are derogatory and therefore create hierarchies between groups of people. Because hygiene is a form of ideology, i.e. a form of identity thinking, negative dialectics should be used to critique and change its oppressive forms.
Keyword(s): kriittinen teoria poliittinen filosofia hygienia ideologia kriittinen teoria poliittinen filosofia hygienia ideologiat käytännöllinen filosofia

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