The work of reform: a critical examination of health policy
Anthropol Med. 2022 Dec;29(4):414-429. doi: 10.1080/13648470.2022.2144805. Epub 2023 Jan 9.
Anthropologists have critically examined a range of reforms from education and land to finance and health. Yet the predominant way of looking at reforms has been through a lens focused on neoliberal governance. For example, prior studies of health reforms focus on insurance, financing, and access to care. Yet, seeing reform in this way fails to attend to other types of cultural work at play when calling a policy or law a reform. In this paper, we draw on ethnographic research on health policy reforms in Israel and Bolivia to examine the concept of reform and the work it does within national movements. We argue that while the language of reform often signals change or novelty, reforms also carry forward historical continuities and reifications of the past. By delving into the past and its relationship with ongoing health reforms, we attend to how reforms can reinforce and maintain health inequities in some cases, while creating a national language for new possibilities in others. Reform, as we will discuss in this paper, is not only about political ideology, neoliberal governance, or on-the-ground policy implementation, but centrally it is about representations of aspirations, and about crafting relationships between past, present, and future.