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Is self-care a social movement?

By Preston L. Schiller and Jeffrey S. Levin


Historically, social movements in health have often exerted considerable influence over health policy, public expectation in regards to health services, the structure of health professions and institutions and personal health practices. Self-care has been widely assumed to be a social movement by authors writing in the health arena. The validity of this assumption is questioned by (1) positing criteria and characteristics of social movements and (2) comparing the self-care phenomenon to four examples in the area of health (Temperance, Christian Science, Psychedelia, and Feminist Health) which appear to fit the criteria characteristic of social movements. The literature on self-care cited as a social movement is, then, thoroughly reviewed. It is concluded that self-care does not presently warrant consideration as a social movement. Several factors which include the rapid pace of technological innovation in medical care, the erosion of the traditional doctor/patient relationship and the increasing degree of the medicalization of previously non-medical aspects of social life are seen as contributory to the forming of preconditions of a potential self-care social movement.

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