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Health literacy as a social practice: Social and empirical dimensions of knowledge on health and healthcare


  • Samerski, Silja


Health literacy has become a hot topic in health research and public health promotion. Most definitions specify health literacy as an individual cognitive skill, and surveys such as the EU-HLS which ask people to self-rate their decision-making capacity in the health system, grade a majority of the population as having an inadequate health literacy. Inspired by a praxeological understanding of knowledge and based on an empirical study on welfare bricolage in superdiverse urban neighborhoods, this paper explores health literacy ethnographically and highlights people's knowledge, creative practices and experiences concerning health and healthcare. It draws on 42 semi-structured interviews conducted with a highly diverse sample of residents in Bremen, Germany, between September 2015 and April 2017. The interviews were analyzed with the help of collaborative systematic thematic analysis. The findings question the individualistic and rationalistic bias of conventional approaches to health literacy and suggest that health literacy as a social practice is situational, multidimensional – comprised of different sources and forms of knowledge – and co-produced in social relations. This reformulation of the concept suggests that future research on health literacy should adopt a resource-oriented approach and embrace the rich variety of health knowledge practices.

Suggested Citation

  • Samerski, Silja, 2019. "Health literacy as a social practice: Social and empirical dimensions of knowledge on health and healthcare," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 226(C), pages 1-8.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:226:y:2019:i:c:p:1-8
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.02.024

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chinn, Deborah, 2011. "Critical health literacy: A review and critical analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(1), pages 60-67, July.
    2. Nicola Giocoli, 2003. "Modeling Rational Agents," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 2585, September.
    3. Nutbeam, Don, 2008. "The evolving concept of health literacy," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(12), pages 2072-2078, December.
    4. Cacari-Stone, L. & Wallerstein, N. & Garcia, A.P. & Minkler, M., 2014. "The promise of community-based participatory research for health equity: A conceptual model for bridging evidence with policy," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 104(9), pages 1615-1623.
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    Cited by:

    1. Veltkamp, Gerlieke & Karasaki, Mutsumi & Bröer, Christian, 2020. "Family health competence: Attachment, detachment and health practices in the early years of parenthood," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 266(C).

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