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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details

Atkinson, S. & Ayers, A. The Potential of the Internet for Alternative Caring Practices for Health. Anthropology and Medicine. 2010;17:75-86.

Author(s) from Durham


The practices of health care in late modernity are informed by competing visions of the ideal human and the nature of care. Western societies typically characterise the ideal human as independent and self-reliant. The resultant welfare systems provide temporary havens away from the everyday, competitive spaces of capitalist societies, termed here the enclave model. Social scientists problematise this model on several grounds: the construction of pathologised and medicalised body forms; the neglect of caring practices that are gendered, invisible and primarily private; the de-politicisation of caring practices. Policy calls reject reference to care and its associations with dependency, make visible and value informal care work or invoke a caring citizenship as a policy goal not just a means. Into this field of contested notions of care enters a well-documented rise in access to, and consultation through, the internet in everyday lives for a vast range of issues. Health care encountered online reflects a similar range in form as that encountered offline and much that is innovative, whilst clearly of benefit, does nothing to challenge the existing dominance of the enclave model of social care. However, certain groups of sites create spaces through which participants can both express and extract caring relationships that are otherwise unforthcoming. The paper argues that these sites afford the potential to develop an alternative model of caring, to reframe questions of how to care about distant others and to demonstrate the centrality of caring relations to human life.