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Soc Theory Health. 2013 Feb;11(1):59-80. Epub 2012 Oct 10.

Beyond the therapeutic: A Habermasian view of self-help groups' place in the public sphere.

Author information

  • 1School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, Queen's Medical Centre, University of Nottingham , Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK . E-mail: mark.avis@nottingham.ac.uk.

Abstract

Self-help groups in the United Kingdom continue to grow in number and address virtually every conceivable health condition, but they remain the subject of very little theoretical analysis. The literature to date has predominantly focused on their therapeutic effects on individual members. And yet they are widely presumed to fulfil a broader civic role and to encourage democratic citizenship. The article uses Habermas' model of the public sphere as an analytical tool with which to reconsider the literature on self-help groups in order to increase our knowledge of their civic functions. In doing this it also aims to illustrate the continuing relevance of Habermas' work to our understanding of issues in health and social care. We consider, within the context of current health policies and practices, the extent to which self-help groups with a range of different forms and functions operate according to the principles of communicative rationality that Habermas deemed key to democratic legitimacy. We conclude that self-help groups' civic role is more complex than is usually presumed and that various factors including groups' leadership, organisational structure and links with public agencies can affect their efficacy within the public sphere.

PMID:
23326207
PMCID:
PMC3541482
DOI:
10.1057/sth.2012.14
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