Governing the ethical consumer: Identity, choice and the primary care medical encounter

Ruth McDonald, Nicola Mead, Sudeh Cheraghi-Sohi, Peter Bower, Diane Whalley, Martin Roland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Government policy promoting consumerism in healthcare can be seen as offering up certain preferred identities to which its citizens are encouraged to aspire. Whilst many commentators reject the notion that health services users should be conceived of as consumers, this paper outlines the relevance of the concept to our understanding of the ways in which individuals manage their health and service use. The paper examines the identity work undertaken by individuals in relation to decisions about healthcare preferences and assesses the extent to which this is compatible with the identities promoted in Government policy. We suggest that in circumstances where individuals feel both a sense of personal entitlement and a desire to be supportive of the needs of other members of the community, 'doing' ethical consumer can be fraught with discomfort and anxiety. These anxieties are exacerbated in a context where citizenship is increasingly being defined in terms of consumer identities, and making good (health) choices might be seen as distinguishing the civilised from the marginalised. © 2007 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2007 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-456
Number of pages26
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


  • Choice
  • Consumer
  • Foucault
  • Identity


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