Doctors into Agents: The Technologies of Medical Knowledge and Social Control in State Socialist Hungary*

Viola Lászlófi
Eötvös Loránd University / École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
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Hungarian Historical Review Volume 10 Issue 2  (2021): 328-356 DOI 10.38145/2021.2.328

In this paper, I analyze different situations in which the doctor-patient relationship, the knowledge/information produced within this framework, and the practices of medical questioning came to the fore in the work of the state security services, one of the typical institutions of social observation and surveillance of the Hungarian socialist state. I examine work and recruitment dossiers opened from 1956 to the 1980s which document either physicians’ uses in state security observation of information which they gained about their patients during their professional (medical) activities in or in which the physician-patient relationship appears as a context of the physician’s recruitment. I discuss how physicians constructed the patient when the gaze of the state security forces was also arguably part of their medical gaze. I contend that medical knowledge and, more generally, information revealed in the professional (medical) context and used in the framework of network surveillance, taken out of their strict medical context, constituted a gray zone of power. On the one hand, this information was a useful tool with which the regime could exert some measure of effective social and political control beyond the borders of healthcare, while on the other hand, it could help physicians develop a certain degree of social resistance.

Keywords: state socialism, history of medicine, state security, doctor–patient relationship, gray zone of power

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