Bissell, Paul, Ward, Paul R. and Noyce, Peter R. (2001) The dependent consumer: reflections on accounts of the risks of non-prescription medicines. Health : An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 5 (1). pp. 5-30. ISSN 1363-4593

Although academic writing about risk as a conceptual and theoretical category has burgeoned in recent years, debates about the characteristics
of the risk society have tended to by-pass more mundane but ubiquitous dimensions of health and health-related behaviour. In this article, we argue that focusing on lay people’s understanding of the risks of a relatively commonplace example of modern medical technology (the use of non-prescription medicines for the self-medication of minor ailments) provides an insight and a challenge to what theorists of the risk society have described as the existential contours of life in late modernity.

In the context of an empirical study detailing consumer responses to a naturally occurring risk, we explore some of the arguments proposed by Ulrich Beck and amplified by Anthony Giddens concerning the characteristics of the risk society. We provide evidence both for and against the propositions described by these authors and posit a more nuanced understanding of the risks of scientific medicine which acknowledges both lay expertise over medicines usage coupled with dependence on medicine and medical technology as forms of healing.

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