Research examines use of anger mobilization to reduce health inequalities causing illness and death

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Could the use of polemics and anger mobilization trigger Canadian governing authorities to reduce health inequalities through public policy action? York University Professor Dennis Raphael and a team of researchers undertook a study to evaluate whether this could be the way forward in addressing health inequalities research and advocacy.

The study, published in the journal Sociology of Health & Illness, considers progress to reduce health inequalities through public policy action is difficult in Canada, and though researchers and advocates provide data on the sources of these inequalities and means of reducing them, it does not provoke action.

Dennis Raphael
Dennis Raphael

Conducted by researchers from York University and Ontario Tech University, the study states the causes of health inequalities – particular groups in Canada coming to sicken and die due to their living and working conditions — have been neglected by governing authorities. Despite numerous studies suggesting public policies that would address these causes, little if anything is being done.

In this inquiry, researchers examined whether polemics and anger mobilization – usually absent in health inequalities research and advocacy – could influence Canadian governing authorities to address health inequalities through public policy action.

Usually, terms such as health inequalities, health inequities and adverse health outcomes are used to describe these processes. To move the health equity agenda forward, the research explores the potential use of high-valence terms – such as structural violence, social death and social murder – to force government to understand, and act upon, the sources of health inequalities

“We conclude by outlining the potential benefits and threats posed by polemics and anger mobilization as means of promoting health equity.

Previous studies show there are two primary approaches taken by Canadian researchers and advocates to create impetus for action: providing statistical data that reflects the extent and sources of health inequalities; and, documenting the lived experiences of those encountering these adverse health outcomes. It has also been reported that researchers who undertake critical analysis of the structures and processes contributing to adverse health dispute the view that providing information to governing authorities will, by itself, provoke action.

“In this paper, therefore, we explore the value of making explicit the adverse health effects of what the World Health Organization (2008) terms ‘a toxic combination of poor social policies and programmes’ by adding terms such as structural violence, social death and social murder to health inequalities discourse,” the study states.

The researchers are documenting the frequency of use of terms such as structural violence, social death and social murder in the academic literature as well as in mainstream and social media, and will investigate the reactions these terms elicit from researchers, advocates and students.

“These inquiries will help determine whether polemics and anger arousal are productive ways of provoking public policy responses to health inequalities or, instead, lead to the dismissal of researchers’ and advocates’ arguments, thereby creating an additional barrier to reducing health inequalities. Evidence of initial success in Canada would see the placing of health inequalities on the public policy agendas of governing authorities,” the study states.

Read the study here.