Health social movements: History, current work, and future directions

Phil Brown, Crystal Adams, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Laura Senier, Ruth Simpson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


The last several decades have seen a burgeoning movement in health activism in which patients, consumers, and other lay people, sometimes in conjunction with scientists and health-care professionals, have lobbied for a more active role in defining and finding solutions for health concerns. In the 1960s the women's health movement began challenging prevailing conceptions of medical authority, feminine sexuality, and reproductive rights, with consequent changes in medical research, practice, and standards. In the 1970s and 1980s mental health activists advocated for patients' rights, while AIDS activists fought to expand the funding and scope of research and treatment, as well as the role of patient-activists in research decisions. More recent health social movements have taken on issues such as medical ser vice cutbacks, insurance restrictions, discrimination against the disabled, and, through the environmental justice movement, the unequal distri bu tion of exposure to environmental hazards. This recent activism is noteworthy in part for the emergence of citizen-science alliances in which citizens and scientists collaborate on issues that usually have been identified by lay people. These movements have in turn spawned an increase in scholarly activity related to health activism. Over the past decade several thematic conferences and an increasing number of articles and special issues of scholarly journals have focused attention on health social movements: special streams at the 2001 and 2003 conferences of the Society for the Social Study of Science, a workshop at the American Sociological Association's Collective Behavior and Social Movements Section Conference in 2002, a Medical Social Movements symposium in Sweden in 2003 that led to a Social Science and Medicine special issue on patient-based social movements in 2006, a special issue of Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science on health and the environment in 2002 (edited by Phil Brown), the Sociology of Health and Illness 2004 annual monograph on health social movements (later a book edited by Phil Brown and Stephen Zavestoski), and a conference on social movements and health institutions at the University of Michigan in 2007 from which a volume will shortly be published.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Medical Sociology, Sixth Edition
PublisherVanderbilt University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9780826517203
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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