"Different names for the same thing"? Novelty, expectations, and performative nominalism in personalized and precision medicine

Ilaria Galasso*, Martyn Pickersgill, Sone Erikainen, Giuseppe Testa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper explores the complementary and contrasting uses of the terms ‘personalized medicine’ and ‘precision medicine’ in denotations of a biomedical approach attentive to individual specificities that harnesses genomics and other data-intensive profiling technologies. Drawing on qualitative interviews conducted with biomedical experts in the context of the Precision Medicine Initiative in the United States and the 100,000 Genomes project in the United Kingdom, we read definitional reflection and debate through the lens of the sociologies of expectations and novelty. We observed two key aspects in the shift from ‘personalized medicine’ to ‘precision medicine’ that has been especially prevalent in the United States. Firstly, the term ‘precision medicine’ enables its proponents to rhetorically depart from the idea that this approach to medicine can be expected to deliver individually personalized treatments – an expectation that is seen as unrealistic by many. Secondly, it enables its proponents to assert that personalization, when understood as caring about the patient as an individual person, is not a new approach to medicine but rather something that many medical professionals have always aimed to do (eliding in the process other experiences of US healthcare as, for instance, alienating and discriminatory). We argue that the shift from ‘personalized’ to ‘precision’ medicine can be regarded as a manifestation of performative nominalism: an attribution of ‘newness’ that contributes to performing and propelling innovation, rather than solely reflecting it. In so doing, rhetorical demarcations between personalized and precision medicine emerge as performatively contributing to the production of different biomedical ontologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-155
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Theory & Health
Issue number2
Early online date14 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Precision Medicine
  • Personalized Medicine
  • Naming
  • Novelty
  • Expectations


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