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Heightened Expectations: The History of the Human Growth Hormone Industry in America


This dissertation examines the rise of the human growth hormone (HGH) industry in America. I make three key arguments in this work. First, I argue that the medicalization of height and the modern social stigmatization of short stature, which began to take shape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, were essential ingredients in the making of the human growth hormone industry. Secondly, I demonstrate how sociological notions of gender during the last half of the twentieth century influenced the development of HGH therapy in the treatment of children with short stature. Finally, I show how the amount and type of growth promoting hormone therapeutically available have framed popular and expert perceptions of short stature and its treatment.

Heightened Expectations draws on a diverse set of sources, including government agency records and publications, popular and scientific publications, internet archives, legal documents, corporate archives, and personal files of scientists. It contributes to the histories of pharmaceuticals, public health, and masculinity as well as disability studies and gender studies.

Throughout the dissertation, I have employed an innovative technique of simultaneously dealing with the history of the pathologization of short stature in children and the emergence of human growth hormone therapy. Rather than giving preference to one side of the pharmaceutical equation over the other, this dissertation examines how the histories of the human growth hormone therapy and the pathologization of short stature found each other during the era of scientific medicine. While the pathologization of short stature speaks to the medicalization of somatic realities perceived as deficits, the quest to discover, isolate, and clinically use growth hormone reveals the development in medicine to search inside the body for causation instead of outside in the environment. Once these stories intertwined during the mid-twentieth century, the short, middle-class, full-of-potential, white boy became the poster-child for the human growth hormone industry. Together these histories make us question the implications of the medicalization of social stigmas, the reflexivity between pathology and treatment, and how height matters.

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