Belief, knowledge and expertise: the emergence of the lay expert in medical sociology

Sociol Health Illn. 2003;25:41-57. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.00339.


The paper has three main aims. First, to trace--through the pages of Sociology of Health and Illness--the changing ways in which lay understandings of health and illness have been represented during the 1979-2002 period. Second, to say something about the limits of lay knowledge (and particularly lay expertise) in matters of health and medicine. Third, to call for a re-assessment of what lay people can offer to a democratised and customer-sensitive system of health care and to attempt to draw a boundary around the domain of expertise. In following through on those aims, the author calls upon data derived from three current projects. These latter concern the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in people with Down's syndrome; the development of an outcome measure for people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury; and a study of why older people might reject annual influenza vaccinations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Brain Injuries / therapy
  • Community Participation*
  • Down Syndrome / complications
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Influenza Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Sociology, Medical*
  • Treatment Refusal


  • Influenza Vaccines