Global Health as a Field of Power Relations: A Response to Recent Commentaries

Document Type: Correspondence

Author

Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, DC, USA

Abstract

Actors working in global health often portray it as an enterprise grounded in principled concerns, advanced by individuals and organizations who draw on scientific evidence to pursue health equity. This portrait is incomplete. It is also a field of power relations—a social arena in which actors claim and draw on expertise and moral authority to gain influence and pursue career, organizational and national interests. A clear understanding of  how power operates in this field is necessary to ensure that it is used productively to serve the aims of health equity and improved population health. Responding to commentaries on an editorial published in this journal, I offer 3 ideas toward this end: (1) be skeptical of the global health rationality project—the effort to rescue the field from the alleged indignities of politics through the application of scientific methods; (2) analyze global health as a field of power relations, a concept developed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu; and (3) elevate the place of input legitimacy—inclusive deliberation, fair process and transparency—to address legitimacy and knowledge deficits in this field.

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