Medical consumerism as emotion management

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Frank’s (2000) discussion of Baudrillard’s (1998) The Consumer Society proposes that healthcare can be viewed through the lens of consumerism. Following this logic this study interrogates a nuanced and deliberate enactment of consumerist ideology - where patients collectively choose, resist, feedback and shape their experience of illness within a consumption landscape (Gabriel and Lang, 1995/2006). Drawing on observation and interview in patient-led myeloma support groups in the US this study reveals how a consumerist discourse is constructed, accessed and enacted in order to manage emotion (Hochschild 1979). Specifically, we outline how community, control, agency and a sense of hope are assembled and practiced.

Despite its place on the policy agenda, narrow depictions of consumerism persist in the extant literature. Ideas of “trust and faith” in medical professionals are set up in binary opposition to discourses of consumer choice (Lupton 1997). This view of the ‘patient as consumer’ privileges the notion that patients are dispassionate, rational and autonomous, and sidesteps the emotional, symbolic and collective quality of healthcare consumption (Frank 2000; Lupton 1997; McDonald 2007). Informants’ narratives embody an ethos of consumerism which is pervasive in the wider culture and intensified within support groups. As Klawiter (2004: 846) observes ‘[e]xperiences of disease are shaped…by culturally, spatially and historically specific regimes of practices’. Through individual illness experience, then, this study pieces together how ideological concerns play out at a micro level. As Koski (2014: 76) highlights, the way macro-social forces - such as consumerism - ‘shape illness experience’ has been largely overlooked.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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