The People’s Health Movement: Understanding a Transnational Network’s Contribution to Global Health Governance

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Su-ming KHOO, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Rita O'CONNELL, MA Public Advocacy and Activism, Ireland, Independent Researcher, USA
This paper places a sociological spotlight on the Peoples Health Movement (PHM), a transnational social movement mobilizing for ‘Health for All’ globally. Emergent, organically evolving and apparently less-coordinated, ‘bottom-up’ networks are important in global health governance, but they can prove difficult to define, analyse and theorize sociologically. This paper presents a grounded theory analysis of the People’s Health Movement, based on a thematic content analysis of its networked communications. The data consisted of all email messages (n=244) communicated via PHM’s global email listserv, the PHM-Exchange, during one calendar year, 2016. Synthesising global sociology, transnational social movement theory, international relations and communications theory, we define PHM as a transnational connective mobilization network.

PHM messages communicate a paradigm of global health governance centred on the rights-based approach and Social Determinants of Health, substantiating PHM as a global network mobilizing towards Health for All. PHM messaging operates on two levels: (i) country-level communications typically mobilizing local support and actions, and (ii) global-level communications performing a “watching” role: documenting, educating through international advocacy, and sharing information. The two levels build solidarity, however key tensions can also be identified: messages show a critical awareness that North-to-South communicative dominance may potentially compromise equitable networking, while the discursive shift from Primary Health Care to Universal Health Coverage may detract from primary, preventive and promotive priorities, while favouring service-delivery.

PHM does not fit definitions of a civil society or social movement organization, nor can it be evaluated as social movement organizations are conventionally, viz. success or failure in securing the aspirational ‘health for all’ goal. It functions as a peer network, significantly influencing the complex and changing landscape of global health, countering some dominant discourses, while steering the global governance agenda towards gradually realizing the conditions which may one day make health for all possible.