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Soc Sci Med. 2013 Jun;86:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.02.035. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

Health consumption as work: the home pregnancy test as a domesticated health tool.

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Department of Nursing Research, The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal General Hospital, 1650, Avenue Cedar, Bureau S2-214, Montreal, QC, H3G 1A4, Canada.


A growing array of biomedical goods and services has become central to the North American experience of navigating illness and pursuing good health. Yet despite the utility of consumption as an analytical framework within the social sciences, the selection, purchase, and use of biomedical goods and services has been understudied. By using the home pregnancy test as a case study, we suggest new approaches to thinking about the consumption of these goods and services. We chose the home pregnancy test because it is the best-known example of a mass-produced diagnostic tool used by consumers. We draw on two sources of data for this qualitative analysis: a set of stories submitted between 2003 and 2005 by women and men to an online exhibit mounted by the National Institutes of Health called "A Thin Blue Line: The History of the Pregnancy Test Kit," which we analysed between 2006 and 2007; and web sampling conducted in 2009 and 2010 of personal web and video logs of women and men who have posted stories and opinions about their experiences with contemporary home pregnancy testing products. We adapt the term "domestication" from Science and Technology Studies scholarship to describe the movement of diagnostic devices into homes for use by consumers. Specifically, we propose that the consumption of domesticated biomedical devices, goods, and services should be theorized as work performed by consumers, in two senses: as a form of tool use that allows non-experts to produce diagnostic knowledge about their own bodies and health; and as the ongoing biopolitical work that is expected of citizens to produce healthy bodies. Our paper draws attention to these understudied phenomena, while suggesting new approaches to theorizing the social and cultural elements of goods and services for health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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