Class, Social Suffering, and Health Consumerism

Med Anthropol. 2016 Nov-Dec;35(6):517-528. doi: 10.1080/01459740.2015.1102248. Epub 2015 Oct 12.


In recent years an extensive social gradient in cancer outcome has attracted much attention, with late diagnosis proposed as one important reason for this. Whereas earlier research has investigated health care seeking among cancer patients, these social differences may be better understood by looking at health care seeking practices among people who are not diagnosed with cancer. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork among two different social classes in Denmark, our aim in this article is to explore the relevance of class to health care seeking practices and illness concerns. In the higher middle class, we predominantly encountered health care seeking resembling notions of health consumerism, practices sanctioned and encouraged by the health care system. However, among people in the lower working class, health care seeking was often shaped by the inseparability of physical, political, and social dimensions of discomfort, making these practices difficult for the health care system to accommodate.

Keywords: Cancer; Denmark; health care seeking; health consumerism; social suffering.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethnology
  • Denmark / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / economics
  • Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology*
  • Social Class*