Embodied health movements: New approaches to social movements in health

Phil Brown, Stephen Zavestoski, Sabrina McCormick, Brian Mayer, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Rebecca Gasior Altman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

399 Scopus citations


Social movements organised around health-related issues have been studied for almost as long as they have existed, yet social movement theory has not yet been applied to these movements. Health social movements (HSMs) are centrally organised around health, and address: (a) access to or provision of health care services; (b) health inequality and inequity based on race, ethnicity, gender, class and/or sexuality; and/or (c) disease, illness experience, disability and contested illness. HSMs can be subdivided into three categories: health access movements seek equitable access to health care and improved provision of health care services; constituency-based health movements address health inequality and health inequity based on race, ethnicity, gender, class and/or sexuality differences; and embodied health movements (EHMs) address disease, disability or illness experience by challenging science on etiology, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. These groups address disproportionate outcomes and oversight by the scientific community and/or weak science. This article focuses on embodied health movements, primarily in the US. These are unique in three ways: 1) they introduce the biological body to social movements, especially with regard to the embodied experience of people with the disease; 2) they typically include challenges to existing medical/ scientific knowledge and practice; and 3) they often involve activists collaborating with scientists and health professionals in pursuing treatment, prevention, research and expanded funding. This article employs various elements of social movement theory to offer an approach to understanding embodied health movements, and provides a capsule example of one such movement, the environmental breast cancer movement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-80
Number of pages31
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


  • Breast cancer
  • Health activism
  • Social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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