Hegemony of Knowledge and Pharmaceutical Industry Strategy

  • Sergio SismondoEmail author
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 122)


This chapter discusses some strategies pharmaceutical companies employ to establish influence and even hegemony over domains of medical knowledge: marketing products via medical research and education. The chapter thus contributes to understanding the political economy of knowledge in this industry. As a counterpart to traditional epistemology, studying the political economy of knowledge shifts attention from individual claims and their justifications to some of the forces available to shape terrains on which claims are produced, distributed, and consumed.

Of pharmaceutical companies’ clinical research, 70–75% is performed by contract research organizations (CROs). CROs conduct trials with one eye to the drug approval process and the other to the marketing of products. On the basis of trial data, analyzed by pharmaceutical company statisticians and scientists, publication planners design suites of scientific manuscripts and hire ghostwriters to write them. These are then given to academic authors, who generally have had little prior connection to the research, analysis, or writing. The manuscripts are published in medical journals appropriate for the audiences the companies wish to reach.

The doctors and researchers with whom companies engage most closely are generally termed key opinion leaders (KOLs). In addition to authoring manuscripts, KOLs serve companies in a number of roles, but most prominently as speakers—at professional meetings, in after-dinner and similar settings arranged by sales representatives, and in continuing medical education (CME) courses, which doctors must take to keep their licenses. Research, education, and marketing, then, are often fused.


Pharmaceutical Company Medical Knowledge Continue Medical Education Sales Representative Contract Research Organization 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This chapter presents material from a large project on the political economy of pharmaceutical knowledge. That project was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (#410-2010-1033). Some additional research was funded by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (#2009-11-02). Zdenka Chloubova performed many of the interviews quoted here. Khadija Coxon assisted with other research that made its way into this chapter and helped considerably with the organization of a draft. Apologies are owed to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe for the chapter’s title.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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