Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Preferred Name

Christina Quint

Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Communication Studies


Pete Bsumek

Matt Brigham

Corey Hickerson


Leaders in the medical field representing organizations abroad such as the British Medical Association (BMA) and MedAct have called for health care organizations to divest from fossil fuels, on the grounds that it is hypocritical for health care leaders to take the Hippocratic Oath and be implicated in the health impacts for which the burning of fossil fuels is responsible. The emerging discourse highlighting the imperative to divest draws parallels to the health care sector’s leadership in divesting from tobacco in the 1990s on the grounds of its health implications. Even before the current fossil fuel divestment movement and the tobacco divestment movement of the nineties, the roots of divestment as a political gesture began with apartheid divestment in the 1980s, when U.S. corporations were pressured to divest and cease business operations in South Africa in the midst of apartheid.

This thesis argues that advocates for divestment have historically generated a social controversy over morality in order to put pressure on institutions when political avenues are blocked by powerful industry lobbies. The role of the healthcare sector in divestment will comprise a significant focus in this work, as the industry is driven by a strong ethical imperative to abide by the Hippocratic Oath, and holds significant political clout, representing one-fifth of the United States GDP. While much existing scholarship on divestment focuses on the role of college campuses in bringing matters of social controversy to the national agenda, it is through both my personal affiliation with the healthcare sector, and its unique role as a mission-driven industry with a significant moral imperative integral to its existence, that necessitate this alternative perspective on divestment. Guided by critical memory theories and social controversy scholarship, this thesis seeks to complicate the circumstances that advocates of divestment in the healthcare sector must attend to in the process of continuing this exhausting, yet fulfilling, work. This work will thus follow an historical trajectory, beginning with an examination of the apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s—a movement which set the precedent for the intense negotiation over morality that is still playing out nearly forty years later.

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