Empowered = Individualized

A few days ago, Antonio Casilli wrote this:

“Who wants to appropriate the so-called « eHealth revolution » and put it to commercial use? Just have a read through this scary bit of pharmacom fireside chat freshly published on The Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine website then we’ll talk.

Thus spoke Sarah Krüg, from the Medical Education Group at Pfizer. Patients empowerment via online databases,  open information sharing and web-based self-help groups represents a business opportunity for pharmacoms (but then what doesn’t?). The danger that the biomedical monopoly over health care be replaced by an even more pervasive pharmaceutical merchandising is a clear and present one.”

“Empowered patients” and “patient-centered care” (also see “student-centered” as a favorite of education “reformers”) are buzzwords that actually mean the individualization of patients, left on their own, facing giant corporations from the insurance and pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, a constant companion to individualization is deregulation. Just let “empowered” patients google their health issues and find their own solution. Let them just get on message boards and online communities. Who needs doctors and health care guidelines, and facing the risks on their own, or with their social networks.

As I wrote elsewhere,

“The other feature is what Bauman (2000) calls “deregulation and privatization.” Any improvement to be made in living conditions is no longer seen as the job of the modern state but is more and more left to the efforts of individuals. The end of a progressive conception of society means that any idea of the “good society” has shifted to the idea of “human rights,” from the social realm to the individual. The result, for Bauman, is that, if individuals are freer to determine their own idea of happiness, it is also entirely up to them to achieve it and any failure will be attributed to their own shortcomings. In this sense, any notion of emancipation is no longer a social project to be achieved collectively but an individual task, with new experts (life coaches, therapists and counselors of all sorts, such as the omnipresent Doctor Phil) to guide individuals along the way. Furthermore, individual fulfillment will involve some form of consumption. Paraphrasing Peter Drucker, Bauman (2000:30) puts it this way, “no more salvation by society” (p. 30).


Individualization means that members of society can no longer count on social safety nets or the welfare state to negotiate the impact of risks on their lives (such as a job loss, loss of pensions and savings to the insecurities of the market). Liquid modernity leaves them “free” to figure out solutions on their own. Individuals are left to deal with societal and systemic conditions as part of their own individual life-projects. As Bauman (2000) writes, “risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualized” (34).”

But that is a dreadfully scary prospect, so, let us not talk of that: let us talk of empowerment and individual choice. It sounds a lot better.

And, of course, in this process, as Casilli notes, there is no one left to contest corporate power and their capacity to shape information or astroturf online communities.

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