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Politics of Health Conference

Politics of Health Conference
Nashville, Tennessee – October 3-4, 2013

The conference, held October 3 and 4, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, invites participants and attendees with a range of experiences, priorities, and backgrounds, to a conversation about the paradoxes and the promises of health.

Health is a political object par excellence: everyone agrees on its fundamental importance. Yet there is widespread disagreement about what health consists of, who needs it, and how we can equitably share its benefits. American politicians and communities spent the last two years arguing over whether a national healthcare system was a moral necessity or an egregious governmental overreach. The business of health has made a dizzying array of technologies and treatments available across the globe, but as a result health has also morphed into a commodity available only to some. Political, social and environmental issues—war, gun control, climate change, food security, discrimination—are increasingly understood in terms of their health effects, but their practical and social dimensions remain no less complex. Health is not just a state to strive for or a quantity we can possess, but a lens that reveals contention, suffering, and the possibility of better lives. Health, that is to say, is political.

The conference is organized around a series of interlinked themes that speak to the scale, urgency and intimacy of health as a political problem: inequality, infrastructure, justice, and aesthetics. A panel on justice and activism will consider the possibilities for health justice in settings of scarce money, time and attention. A panel on aesthetics and infrastructures will examine how seemingly distant economic and legal decisions about health are materialized in our everyday physical, social, and natural environments. And a panel on the social foundations of health will take on the persistent causes and consequences of health disparities. By opening the discussion to practitioners, scholars, activists, students, and community members, we aim to address health issues as they are now understood by a wide variety of stakeholders: not as a condition or an abstract object, but as an ongoing political project.

The conference is free and open to the public.

The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is proud to announce that the following individual, associated with the HSS program (identified in bold type below), is participating in a session at this meeting.  A complete session listing noting dates and times is currently available at

PANEL III: Social Foundations of Health
Co-hosted by the Vanderbilt Black Cultural Center
Chair: Derek Griffith, Medicine, Health, and Society, Vanderbilt University
Dominique Behague, Medicine, Health, and Society, Vanderbilt University

Keynote: Tyrone Forman
Department of Sociology and Director, James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race & Difference, Emory University

Respondents: Amy Non
Department of Anthropology and Medicine, Health, and Society, Vanderbilt University