Health Sciences and the Social. Health and Social Mobilization, 1950-2020s

Rudolf Virchow’s much quoted aphorism “Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale” (1848) dominated an era, from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, when medicine provided a series of concepts, instruments and practices, models and experiments to a wide range of social and political experiences, especially in the framework of projects such as hygienism, eugenism, social medicine or colonialism. By contrast, the 1960s opened an era where an increasing number of activists, health experts, and social and life scientists, could have claimed that “medicine is nothing else but politics, and social science is a foundation of medicine”. Across a variety of health domains, experts developed discourses and practices with the aim of intervening on, correcting and at times changing society. On the reverse, various social mobilizations reflected, were based on, or challenged medical discourses and practices.

Several scholars, including sociologists and historians, have provided fascinating insights into the cross fertilization of social mobilizations and health in specific contexts from the 1960s onwards. Most of this scholarship has focused on a small number of examples such as the relationship between antipsychiatry and leftist social movements in Europe in the 1970s, the connections between the anti-AIDS mobilisations and the broader gay movement from the 1980s, or the emergence of humanitarian medicine in the 1970s. Beyond these examples, sociologists have investigated the ascent of health social movements (HSMs) in a variety of contexts in the last decades of the century. More generally, the “new social movements” paradigm in political science has provided a framework to account for the emergence, in the post-industrial society, of a new type of social mobilization led by the new middle classes and centering on quality of life, with health as a central component of these mobilizations.

Yet beyond these theorizations and local examples, we lack a broader understanding of the ways in which various branches of the health sciences have contributed to, have been embedded in and have been shaped by the specific social contexts, agendas and/or movements of 1968 and post-1968 societies. What conditions explain the politicization of certain segments of medicine and health? What specific terrain have medicine and health provided for social movements? How have these processes competed with the growing trend of privatization of health care since the late twentieth century?

This workshop will explore the historical aspects of the interrelationships between health sciences and the social, from the mid-twentieth century to today, a period of rapid scientific developments, profound social changes, and intense social movements. We propose a two-fold approach: on the one hand, we would like to investigate the social and political agendas developed within the various branches of medicine; on other hand we also want to account for the ways in which social movements and mobilizations have tackled health issues.

Participation is free, but registration is required here 

Organizing committee: Alexander Dunst, Assistant Professor of American Studies, Paderborn University, Germany; Nicolas Henckes, Associate Researcher, CNRS, France; Despo Kritsotaki, Associate Member, CERMES3, France; Chantal Marazia, Lecturer, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany; Matthew Smith, Professor of Health History, University of Strathclyde, UK

Location: Salle 50, Centre de colloque, Campus Condorcet, place du Front populaire, Aubervilliers (Métro ligne 12 arrêt Front Populaire) and Online (a connection link will be sent to registered participants)

Contact: Nicolas Henckes ( or Despo Kritsotaki (

Version téléchargeable du programme.


9:00-9:15. Introduction

9:15-11:00. Session 1. Challenging social order.

Chair: Despo Kritsotaki (CERMES3), Discussant: Cornelius Borck (Universität zu Lübeck)

Sabrina Leo (University of Florence, Italy), Social medicine, class conflict and institutional democratization in Italy – The Medicina Democratica perspective in healthcare (1976-1985)

Alexander Dunst (Universität Padelborn, Germany), Antipsychiatry in Global Perspective: Reimagining the ‘Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation

Yana Kirey-Sitnikova (Uppsala Universitet, Sweden), Trans and intersex movements in Eastern Europe and Central Asia as health social movements

11:15-13:00. Session 2. Challenging biomedicine.

Chair: Chantal Marazia (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf) ; Discussant: Jean-Paul Gaudillière (INSERM & EHESS)

Travis Weisse (Marist College, USA), Organized Alternatives: The National Health Federation and the Dream of “Health Freedom”

Nils Kessel (Université de Strasbourg, France) Pure Prescriptions. How Medical Reformers Targeted the Pharmaceutical Industry and Drug Safety as Key Fields for « Improving » Therapeutical Practice (Germany and France, 1960-1980)

Magalie Moysan (Université d’Angers, France), Get and digest: activist reuse of biomedical research archives by Act Up Paris and Act Up New York

Lunch (Foyer du centre de colloque)

14:30-15:45. Session 3. Health movements and social critique.

Chair: Alexander Dunst (Universität Padelborn); Discussant: George Weisz (McGill University)

Annina Gagyiova (Akademie věd České republiky, Czech Republic), How experts used mental disability for social critique: Making a case for preterm children in socialist Hungary (1960s-1980s) 

Karissa Patton (University of Edinburgh, UK), “From isolated crofts and fishing villages to oil towns:” Activist Debates, Professionalism, and Place at the 1983 Scottish Women’s Health Fair

16:00-17:45. Session 4. Allying with social movements.

Chair : Nicolas Henckes (CNRS); Discussant: Matt Smith (University of Strathclyde)

Mauro Capocci (Università di Pisa, Italy), Giulia Frezza (Imperial College, UK), Roberto Gronda (Università di Pisa, Italy), Health is not for sale. Italian Occupational Medicine and Social movements in 1960-70s

Costanza Galanti (University College Dublin & Università di Padova, Italy) and Sara Vallerani (Università, Roma Tre, Italy) The legacy of the 1970s workers’ movement in current healthcare mobilisations in Italy

Cristian R. Montenegro (University of Exeter, UK), Protest medicine: Informal medical and psychological responses to police violence in the context of Chile’s “Estallido Social”, 2019-2020.

17:45-18:30. Final comments and conclusion

Ylva Söderfeldt (Uppsala Universitet, Sweden). Illness in action: The long history of patient organizations and modern medicine


Citer ce billet
Nicolas Henckes (2023, 10 avril). Health Sciences and the Social. Health and Social Mobilization, 1950-2020s. Des organisations psychiatriques. Consulté le 29 février 2024, à l’adresse

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