Health Activism

Activism, defined as “energetic advocacy in a civil society” (Huang, 2011), is supported by the need for awareness of both science and politics in activist groups to effectively plan action and strategy. Activist groups are considered to be be complex microcosms, acting out the social dynamics of a larger society in which they wish to affect change. In this sense unity within these groups can be an issue due to the complexity of their make-up, but it is this connection to larger society which holds all activist groups together (Huang, 2011).

(Laverack, 2012), argues that any action beyond the conventional on behalf of a cause should be considered activism, and that health activism involves a challenge to the existing order, aiming to redress the perceived imbalance of power which led to the situation in the first place. Laverack raises the issue of the impact of neo-liberal politics and their personalisation of health, shifting responsibility to the individual while not providing or systematically removing the structures needed to enable personal control over health. Neo-liberal individualism ignores this dichotomy, making collective action psychologically problematic in this environment (Laverack, 2012). Free media, social democratic politics and a strong civil society are needed for health activism to flourish (Laverack, 2012).

Neo-liberalist promotion of personal health responsibility creates an oppressive political environment for individuals while producing savings in healthcare for government, supporting commercial and corporate interest. The manipulative power and influence of lobby groups, whose investment in counter-activist tactics increases alongside levels of controversy creates a distinct imbalance of power in healthcare within a neo-liberal ideology. Civil disobedience is needed to bring about change, as corporate and commercial lobbyists hold far more influence than ordinary citizens in this environment. Conversely, radical, extreme tactics can bring about dynamic outcomes for activism (Laverack, 2012).


Huang, J., 2011. Defining Health Activism: From MADD to Mad Activists: Health Activism in the 20th Century. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 84, 51.
Laverack, G., 2012. Health activism. Health Promot. Int. 27, 429–434. doi:10.1093/heapro/das044

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