Lay knowledge, social movements and the use of medicines: Personal reflections

Health (London). 2016 Mar;20(2):77-93. doi: 10.1177/1363459315619021. Epub 2015 Nov 30.


This article consists of two personal reflections about the changing status of lay knowledge over the last 20 years. The first reflection is by Nicky Britten from the perspective of a sociologist working in medical schools whose interest in this topic was motivated by my own personal experience of health care and of teaching general practitioners. Starting with the problematic deficit model of 'ignorant patients', I trace the literature on patient-centredness, shared decision-making, lay knowledge, public involvement in research and social movements. Looking at medicines use in particular, I deplore the continued hegemony of the concept of compliance in the face of extensively documented problems with the licensing, regulation, prescribing and monitoring of medicines. I argue that lay knowledge is now taken more seriously, not so much because of advocacy by clinicians and academics, but because of social movements and social action. We may have moved from 'anecdotes' to 'lived experience' but there is still a way to go, particularly when it comes to medicines use. I end with a possible future scenario. The second reflection is by Kath Maguire and is a response from the perspective of someone who came to work in this field with the express purpose of improving engagement with lay knowledge. It questions my own 'layness' and explores the issues raised by Nicky Britten using the lens of lived experience. Finally, it questions the paradigm of social movements and highlights the importance of developing different ways of listening.

Keywords: experiencing illness and narratives; illness behaviour; patient–physician relationship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Delivery of Health Care / trends
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence
  • Patient-Centered Care*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Sociology, Medical / methods