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Abstract

This article reviews the literature on health social movements (HSMs) and provides an overview of their main conceptual, theoretical and empirical underpinnings. Health social movements is not a single paradigm but spans several decades’ worth of theoretical and research activity in the areas of social movements, medical sociology and social studies in science. Case studies of HSMs have been accumulating for years, and several new collections of papers attempt to systematize the various strands of health social movements research to answer questions about their origins, different strategic and political approaches to social change, their trajectories and consequences. We provide a selective overview of the literature on health social movements that explore these questions, while distinguishing between health social movements seeking greater access to healthcare, those focusing on health disparities and inequality, and those challenging the underlying science of health and healthcare. We conclude with some suggestions for the direction of future studies.