1st Edition

Self-Medication and Society Mirages of Autonomy

By Sylvie Fainzang Copyright 2017
    146 Pages
    by Routledge

    146 Pages
    by Routledge

    The question of recourse to self-medication arises at the intersection of two partly antagonistic discourses: that of the public authorities, who advocate the practice primarily for economic reasons, and that of health professionals, who condemn it for fear that it may pose a danger to health and dispossess the profession of expertise. This books examines the reality of self-medication in context and investigates the social treatment of the notion of autonomy ever present in the discourses promoting this practice.

    Drawing on fieldwork conducted in France, the author examines the material, cognitive, symbolic and social dimensions of the recourse to self-medication, considering the motivations and practices of the subjects and what these reveal about their relationship with the medical institution, while addressing the question of open access to medicines – a subject of heated debate between the actors concerned on themes such as competence, knowledge and responsibility.

    A rigorous analysis of the strategies adopted by individuals to manage the risks of medicines and increase their efficacy, Self-Medication and Society will appeal to sociologists and anthropologists with interests in health, illness, the body and medicine.


    1. On the other side of the counter

    2. Self-medication, between signs and symptoms

    3. Cultural and practical reasons

    4. Knowledge and competence

    5. Risk management and the quest for efficacy




    Sylvie Fainzang is a French medical anthropologist and Director of Research in the INSERM (Cermes3). She is the scientific coordinator of the international network MAAH (Medical Anthropology At Home), the editor-in-chief of the international Journal Anthropologie & Santé, and the author of several books on illness and medicines.

    ‘An outstanding book. A sophisticated ethnographic inquiry on how self-medication actually takes place in peoples’ lives, and an innovative, engaging anthropological reflection on what autonomy means in relation to the act of self-managing one’s body and illness. The contemporary relevance of this research’s insights extends well beyond the issue of self-medication.’ - Manuela Ivone Cunha, Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA-UMinho), Portugal

    ‘Self-Medication and Society offers an illuminating delineation of stakeholder positions in the public debate about self-medication. It provides an incisive analysis of the logics and practices of users and a thoughtful consideration of autonomy and responsibility as these terms are deployed in the current move towards recognizing and endorsing self-medication.’ - Susan Reynolds Whyte, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

    'As revealed by patients’ experiences beyond the medical gaze or outside medical authority, Fainzang’s thorough analysis of self-medication conveys deep insights into the doctor-patient relationship. Her rich ethnography highlights medications as socially and culturally anchored, in Western societies where the valorisation of autonomy takes center stage.' - Johanne Collin, University of Montreal, Canada