Struggles for Human Rights in Health in an Age of Neoliberalism: From Civil Disobedience to Epistemic Disobedience

Journal of Human Rights Practice, 11, 2019, 357–372

Posted: 26 Mar 2021

See all articles by Alicia Ely Yamin

Alicia Ely Yamin

Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics; Harvard University - Harvard Law School; Partners in Health; Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) - Center on Law and Social Transformation

Date Written: August 8, 2019

Abstract

Like other contributors to this special issue and beyond, I believe we are at a critical inflection point in human rights and need to re-energize our work broadly to address growing economic inequality as well as inequalities based on different axes of identity. In relation to the constellation of fields involved in ‘health and human rights’ specifically—which link distinct communities with dissonant values, methods and orthodoxies—I argue that we also need to challenge ideas that are taken for granted in the fields that we are trying to transform. After setting out a personal and subjective account of why human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) are unlikely to be meaningful tools for social change as they are now generally being deployed, I suggest we collectively—scholars, practitioners and advocates—need to grapple with how to think about: (1) biomedicine in relation to the social as well as biological nature of health and well-being; and (2) conventional public health in relation to the social construction of health within and across borders and health systems. In each case, I suggest that challenging accepted truths in different disciplines, and in turn in the political economy of global health, have dramatic implications for not just theory but informing different strategies for advancing health (and social) justice through rights in practice.

Keywords: biomedical paradigm, human rights-based approach to health, neoliberalism, political economy, right to health, Sustainable Development Goals

Suggested Citation

Yamin, Alicia Ely, Struggles for Human Rights in Health in an Age of Neoliberalism: From Civil Disobedience to Epistemic Disobedience (August 8, 2019). Journal of Human Rights Practice, 11, 2019, 357–372, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3791014

Alicia Ely Yamin (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics ( email )

23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 02155
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Partners in Health ( email )

641 Huntington Ave, 1st Floor
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) - Center on Law and Social Transformation ( email )

PO Box 6033 Postterminalen
Bergen, NO-5892
Norway

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