The pharmaceuticalisation of society? A framework for analysis

Sociol Health Illn. 2011 Jul;33(5):710-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01320.x. Epub 2011 Mar 4.


Drawing on insights from both medical sociology and science and technology studies this article provides a critical analysis of the nature and status of pharmaceuticalisation in terms of the following key dimensions and dynamics: (i) the redefinition or reconfiguration of health 'problems' as having a pharmaceutical solution; (ii) changing forms of governance; (iii) mediation; (iv) the creation of new techno-social identities and the mobilisation of patient or consumer groups around drugs; (v) the use of drugs for non-medical purposes and the creation of new consumer markets; and, finally, (vi) drug innovation and the colonisation of health futures. Pharmaceuticalisation, we argue, is therefore best viewed in terms of a number of heterogeneous socio-technical processes that operate at multiple macro-levels and micro-levels that are often only partial or incomplete. The article concludes by drawing out some broader conceptual and reflexive issues this raises as to how we might best understand pharmaceuticalisation, based on our analysis, as a framework for future sociological work in this field.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Discovery / organization & administration
  • Drug Industry / organization & administration*
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / organization & administration
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Marketing of Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Social Identification*


  • Prescription Drugs