Author:Celia Roberts (Lancaster University)
Paper short abstract:
Cortisol, the so-called 'stress hormone,' has become a compound to care for. We are asked to recognise when our cortisol levels are high and to try to bring them down. How can an endogenous compound become so dangerous? And what might the work of monitoring and managing cortisol look like?
Paper long abstract:
Cortisol, the so-called 'stress hormone,' has become a compound to care for. According to the online magazine, Psychology Today, for example, is it now 'Public Enemy No.1': interfering with your memory and learning, lowering your immune function and bone density, increasing your weight and increasing your risk for depression, amongst many other things. To stop the 'violence and bloodshed' in the US, the author writes, we must reduce cortisol levels in American youth. Increasingly, we all are asked to recognise when our cortisol levels are too high, and to engage in activities - massage, kickboxing, meditation, laughing with friends - that will bring them down. But how can an endogenous compound become so dangerous? How do raised cortisol levels relate to the effects of exogenous compounds? And what might the work of monitoring and managing cortisol look like? This paper will track the arrival of cortisol onto the public stage, via scientific studies of early childhood neglect. It will explore the development of cortisol biosensing through hair strand analysis as it has moved from laboratories into social work offices and the everyday lives of the 'worried well,' asking how this quintessentially biosocial compound has come to index highly complex bio-psycho-social phenomena such as youth violence. What is lost in this move, and what, if anything, is gained?