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Public health activism in changing times: Re-locating collective agency

Special Issue of Critical Public Health: Call for Abstracts

Guest editors: Flora Cornish & Catherine Campbell

Contemporary socio-political shifts are producing crisis conditions for health justice. Rising economic and social inequalities, increasingly precarious work and housing tenure, and austerity-driven cuts in public services and welfare benefits are coupled with resurgences of nationalist populism, intolerance, authoritarianism and cynicism. The devastating impacts of these conditions for health and well-being, especially amongst excluded groups, prompts urgent action.

In many ways this divisive and unequal environment creates hostile conditions for public health activism. Yet there are suggestions that the hegemony of competitive individualism fuelling these dismal contexts is itself in crisis. New, conflictual and often uncompromising forms of resistance and politics are emerging. Spaces are opening up for the development of novel forms of health-promoting collective agency. These offer new potential to resist the ever-expanding forms of health damaging social disadvantage that characterise our changing times.

Critical Public Health

Critical Public Health ( CPH ) is devoted to the dissemination of critically-engaged research in public health, health promotion and related fields. It brings together international scholarship from social scientists and health researchers to provide critical analyses of theory and practice and to explore new ways of thinking about public health.

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The special issue will examine emerging new forms of public health activism, and associated novel sources of collective agency, that are evolving in the fight for health-enabling conditions. Attention to structural forms of power, and the strengths and weaknesses of individual agency have long been cornerstones of critical public health, rooted in a long-established structure-agency binary. We seek to disrupt this binary by calling for papers that draw attention to alternative, distributed, networked, disruptive, prefigurative or bottom-up sources of agency that characterise emerging new forms of activism.

New and resurgent social movements include attention to issues of anti-austerity, disability rights, new feminisms, defence of public services, housing justice, urban regeneration, anti-racism and advocacy targeting commercial determinants of health. Alternative forms of health-enhancing agency ‘in the cracks’ are evident in the form of ‘wilful subjectivities’ (e.g. transgender and queer politics), non-human agency (e.g. communication technologies, built environment), distributed agency (e.g. emergence of common causes, new networks, emergent protest), occupation of space, evidence-based activisms and artistic expressions. Evident too are efforts to connect grassroots collective agency to traditional axes of power, e.g. social enterprises using capitalist business models, or grassroots party political activism. Papers on any of these, or other, locations of collective agency with potential for innovative public health activism would all be suited to the special issue.

We invite papers from the full range of public health disciplines, exploring the possibilities of public health activism in contemporary conditions, especially papers with strong empirical bases in studies of recent/contemporary activism. Creative responses to crisis are most often generated in practice rather than theory, and we particularly welcome papers rooted in activist and collaborative praxis.

Submission Instructions


A two-round review process will take place:

Please submit abstracts (250-300 words) to Flora Cornish (f.cornish@lse.ac.uk).

Abstract submission deadline: May 1, 2019

Submit an Abstract


Following review, selected authors will be invited to develop their papers, with the option of taking part in an unfunded workshop in December 2019 in London.

Full paper submission deadline: Feb 1, 2020



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