Seminars in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

'Socialist medicine: rethinking the history of global health'

hsmt pic

Dora Vargha (University of Exeter)

While socialist health is mostly used to refer to health policies and practices in state socialist Eastern Europe, socialist ideas have underpinned concepts in budding welfare states in the West, which, in turn, were presented as politically dangerous in other Western countries. Moreover, socialist networks between Eastern European, African, Latin American and Asian states facilitated the exchange of ideas, models and scientific knowledge, as newly independent political systems navigated a potentially treacherous postcolonial Cold War world.

There is an underlying commonality that connected health practitioners and policy makers in certain Western welfare states, state socialist Eastern Europe and the so-called Third World, guided by the integration of politics and health, where social justice and health were inextricably linked and part of a particular imagination of modernity. In Eastern Europe and certain communist regimes, such as China and Cuba, this ‘socialist health’ was a central part of the political or revolutionary project. In others, such as Mexico, it was a domestic political convenience, more than a commitment to a centralized political economy.

A preoccupation with the conditions of life and work, an interventionalist approach to preventative medicine, combined with environmentalist traditions in public health were seen as central to reaching the dual and interconnected aim of improving the health of the population and advancing the development of a socialist world. This paper explores approaches and practices that comprised socialist medicine, shifting analysis from the West to broaden how we might think about global health.


Series Convenors: Rod Bailey, Erica Charters, Rob Iliffe, Catherine Jackson, John Lidwell-Durnin


More information and registration are available at: