Consumerism, reflexivity and the medical encounter

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Aug;45(3):373-81. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(96)00353-x.


Much emphasis has been placed recently in sociological, policy and popular discourses on changes in lay people's attitudes towards the medical profession that have been labelled by some as a move towards the embracing of "consumerism". Notions of consumerism tend to assume that lay people act as "rational" actors in the context of the medical encounter. They align with broader sociological concepts of the "reflexive self" as a product of late modernity; that is, the self who acts in a calculated manner to engage in self-improvement and who is sceptical about expert knowledges. To explore the ways that people think and feel about medicine and the medical profession, this article draws on findings from a study involving in-depth interviews with 60 lay people from a wide range of backgrounds living in Sydney. These data suggest that, in their interactions with doctors and other health care workers, lay people may pursue both the ideal-type "consumerist" and the "passive patient" subject position simultaneously or variously, depending on the context. The article concludes that late modernist notions of reflexivity as applied to issues of consumerism fail to recognize the complexity and changeable nature of the desires, emotions and needs that characterize the patient-doctor relationship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Australia
  • Complementary Therapies / trends
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Patient Participation / psychology*
  • Patient Participation / trends
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research
  • Self Care / psychology*
  • Self Care / trends
  • Trust