Disease and Globalized Anarchy: Theoretical Perspectives on the Pursuit of Global Health


The visibility of public health in world politics has increased because of epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS, and tensions between public health and international trade, including those related to patents and access to essential medicines. Advocacy for raising the profile of public health on diplomatic agendas raises fundamental theoretical questions about public health: why should public health be higher on global diplomatic agendas, and how should the pursuit of better public health globally be structured and implemented? This article explores answers to these questions provided by traditional theory on public health and analyzes the problems the anarchical context of international relations poses for such answers. A major part of this analysis utilizes theories from the discipline of international relations – realism, institutionalism, liberalism, and social constructivism – to illuminate theoretical challenges global health advocacy faces in making public health more important in world politics. These theories help identify a theoretical conundrum that public health faces, and the article considers various ways in which to handle this conundrum in light of the desire to increase the role public health plays in international relations.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Fidler, D. Disease and Globalized Anarchy: Theoretical Perspectives on the Pursuit of Global Health. Soc Theory Health 1, 21–41 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700003

Download citation


  • global health
  • international relations theory
  • anarchy
  • public health
  • governance
  • globalization