Surely one of the most important projects of the next decade in physiotherapy must be to undertake a thoroughgoing critical analysis of our professional history. By this I mean how did we get to be a profession that looked so distinctly like ‘this’, and not something else.
Perhaps one of the most important questions we need to ask is how has physiotherapy served The State – and how this will change as governments become smaller and push the responsibility for social welfare onto individuals.
One of the most intriguing questions that, as far as I know, no-one has really studied, is the relationship between physiotherapy and capitalism.
On first glance, it would be hard to see a connection, but watch this new video from the BBC and Stephen Fry on the the German sociologist Max Weber, and you may be able to see a link.
Essentially, Weber argued that capitalism owes its origins to a particular branch of Christianity called Calvanism, that promised salvation for those who contributed to society through their work. Wealth, both financial and spiritual, was underpinned by one’s labour, and so the need to ensure that one was always fit and able to work became an important measure of an individual and a country’s moral rectitude.
Hence the need for measures like Gross Domestic Product (GDP); the setting a retirement age, to determine when work could be legitimately terminated and the person prepared for judgement; and, of course, physiotherapy and rehabilitation.
Physiotherapists became a vital cog in the machinery of production because they both returned people to work and soothed The State’s embarrassment that it even had people who were unfit for work in the first place.
Sociologists like Weber and Karl Marx have provided complex and interesting critical insights into the reasons for the existence of social systems like health care and capital, and these things are often so familiar to us that we take them for granted. We could do a lot worse than pay some more attention to these ideas in the future.
I would like to make it clear that I had nothing to do with the rather ‘interesting’ image used by the BBC as the link image for the video above.