In This Article Social Justice

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • History of Public Health and Social Justice
  • Social Justice Philosophy
  • Health(Care) and Social Justice Philosophy
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Health and Social Justice Philosophy
  • Global Health Justice and Inequalities
  • Fairness and Personal Responsibility
  • Health Economics
  • Philosophy of Epidemiology (and Evidence)

Public Health Social Justice
by
Sridhar Venkatapuram
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0152

Introduction

Realizing social justice has always been a prominent concern of public health. From the initial founding of public health as a discipline, profession, and movement in the mid-19th century, different dimensions of the causes and societal distribution of disease, premature death, and longevity (“health inequalities”) have been understood as directly reflecting the way a society is organized and functioning. Appropriately responding to the different dimensions of health inequalities naturally leads to thinking about how a society should be organized or function—to develop a conception of a just or good society. However, the descriptive aspects of public health, the normative reasoning about social justice as well as the links between the two have been deeply contested from the beginning. The vibrant and often acrimonious public discussions in many countries and in various academic disciplines on the topic of health inequalities and social justice reflect our rapidly changing understanding of the causes and distribution of human diseases and health, scientific advances, and the social, political, and economic inequalities and transformations occurring in the world. The debates also reflect philosophical disagreements about what constitutes a good and just (global) society. Two phenomena are worth noting for their profound impact on current discussions on health and social justice. First, the initial decade of the 21st century saw the solidification and wider recognition of a corpus of epidemiological studies on the social determinants of health. This research is transforming our explanatory paradigm of disease and mortality, which previously had been focused largely on individual level factors such as genetics, individual behaviors, and proximate exposures to harmful agents. Social epidemiology expands the causal chain in time and space to include factors such as family and work environments, neighborhood, national economic and political systems, and global processes. The second phenomenon is that of globalization. Alongside the intensification of social, political, and economic interconnectedness of societies is the increased magnitude and movement of new and resurgent causes of disease and mortality—and, possibly, health and longevity—across national borders. Our knowledge of the social and global factors impacting health is rapidly expanding, and our ethical and political discussions on what the social responses should be are also quickly evolving. Despite the literature being vast, the following article reflects the fact that most of the literature has largely been produced in developed countries and in the Anglo-American philosophical traditions. The literature will likely evolve in the future to reflect both geographical and philosophical diversity.

Journals

These journals cover a range of disciplines including bioethics, political philosophy, and health policy where scholarly discussions of social justice in the domain of public health are presented. All of these journals publish state-of-the-art scholarship that is peer reviewed. Public Health Ethics frequently publishes articles on various aspects of social and global justice related to health issues. Other journals that largely focus on traditional bioethics issues such as Bioethics, American Journal of Bioethics, and Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics have also begun publishing articles related to public and global health. The Hastings Center Report is unique as it usually publishes a few long articles considered to be of important and current relevance. Some journals are more explicitly international in scope. Developing World Bioethics was created to present bioethics issues that are specific to resource poor countries and non-Western traditions of ethics. Health & Human Rights was the first journal established to bring together health issues and human rights law, practice, and philosophy. While the Lancet is mainly a journal of medical research, various dimensions of public and global health policies and needs are prominently discussed in editorials, special issues and reports, commentaries, and articles.

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