International law, public health, and the meanings of pharmaceuticalization

New Genet Soc. 2014 Oct 2;33(4):434-449. doi: 10.1080/14636778.2014.951994. Epub 2014 Sep 18.


Recent social science scholarship has employed the term "pharmaceuticalization" in analyses of the production, circulation and use of drugs. In this paper, we seek to open up further discussion of the scope, limits and potential of this as an analytical device through consideration of the role of law and legal processes in directing pharmaceutical flows. To do so, we synthesize a range of empirical and conceptual work concerned with the relationships between access to medicines and intellectual property law. This paper suggests that alongside documenting the expansion or reduction in demand for particular drugs, analysts of pharmaceuticalization attend to the ways in which socio-legal developments change (or not) the identities of drugs, and the means through which they circulate and come to be used by states and citizens. Such scholarship has the potential to more precisely locate the biopolitical processes that shape international agendas and targets, form markets, and produce health.

Keywords: TRIPS; access to medicines; drugs; patents; pharmaceuticalization.