From AIDS to Free Trade Agreements: Knowledge Activism in Thailand’s Movement for Access to Medicines

Gaelle Pascale Krikorian


This article examines the movement for access to medicines in Thailand, a country that is a privileged site of observation of the new world order of pharmaceuticals and has been at the forefront in many international negotiations on intellectual property.  The movement relies on the appropriation of knowledge and expertise about intellectual property laws, which developed in the context of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Treatment activism in Thailand is particularly vigorous and studying it allows us to grasp both the national and transnational dimension of this type of collective action: a global movement that is structured around the notion of "access to medicines," and is in close but rather orthodox relation to medical knowledge. The relations that one can draw between AIDS activism and the movement for access-to-medicines allows one to trace the origins of the latter and helps us understand key features at the core of this movement. But the analysis also shows that, from the outset, the access to medicines movement in Thailand developed through a new form of activism. The notion of knowledge activism is developed in this paper to seize the particularities of the activism at play in Thailand as compared with other forms of collective action relying on the use of knowledge. Knowledge activism is defined not only by the activists’ relation to knowledge–– authoritative and institutionalized knowledge, or lay expertise––but also by the inclusion in the movement of “expert activists” such as doctors, lawyers, or academics, together with “grassroots activists.” Knowledge activism also implies a permanent circulation of knowledge and information between the various categories of actors involved inside, outside and on the fringes of the movement, and results in a hybrid form of collective action that develops beyond the movement and is constantly reconfigured, according to opportunities or pressures.



social movements; knowledge; intellectual property law; biomedicine; HIV/AIDS; Free Trade Agreement; Thailand

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Copyright (c) 2017 Gaelle Pascale Krikorian

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