Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Challenging the Conceptual Limits in Health Psychology: Using the Concept of Conduct of Life to Study People's Health Activities from a Social and Subjective Perspective

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Challenging the Conceptual Limits in Health Psychology: Using the Concept of Conduct of Life to Study People's Health Activities from a Social and Subjective Perspective

Article excerpt


In health theories, there is a tendency to divide the notion of human health up into different concepts, such as mental health, somatic health and social health. These concepts may help researchers with focusing on different parts of health processes. Meanwhile, I argue that health psychology should also focus on the wholeness of a human being, instead of merely dividing up the human being according to different concepts. Mental, somatic and social health should not be divided up, but ought to be viewed as connected processes in health psychology. Thus, the human being is to be viewed as a whole subject in a social world, and on these grounds, human subjectivity should be considered an essential process in human life. My argument is that the concept of subjectivity encompasses a wholeness of embodied, situated and social being, and therefore is at the core of human activities. So as to theoretically grasp such a wholeness of human health processes, the concept of conduct of life could be a viable conceptual tool to understand health from a subject's standpoint in its daily life.

Theorizing health as everyday life

In the Ottawa Charter (1986), the World Health Organisation WHO states: "Health is created and lived by people within the settings of their everyday life; where they learn, work, play and love" (p. 3). In this statement, health is understood as a vital part of people's social lives. Health is rooted in supportive social settings, as in the family home, workplace, and educational institutions (Dooris, 2009). And as I will add: health is created in people's everyday lives through their movements in social practices, their learning of abilities, access to social resources and mutual care in social relations. The Ottawa Charter was the onset of a critical health paradigm in the health field, which broadened the perspective on health, with both a social and individual outlook on human health. These broad notions of health pave way for critical theoretical thoughts on how the practice in the health field could be re-considered.

Some of the main problems that stem from classic health psychology are that its theories study the individual human being without pursuing a thorough understanding of the individual's social life conditions. Another problem I will address is how patients, during medical treatment, feel neglected with regard to their subjective everyday life experiences. Medical science emphasises somatic injuries and symptoms and depicts health as individual, somatic and psychic states. The medical paradigm fails to see how people perceive health in their everyday lives. It thus overlooks the major significance of health as part of people's everyday lives. Theories and understandings of health need to incorporate a subjective view on inherently social human lives. Against this background, I argue that health psychology could apply the concept of conduct of life to analyse health as a social and subjective activity in people's lives.

Sketching the concept of conduct of life

The conduct of everyday life is an important concept in critical psychology. It offers a theoretical lens from the standpoint of the subject in its social life (Holzkamp, 2013; Dreier, 1999, 2008; Kristensen & Schraube, 2014). The analytic perspective from the standpoint of a person or a group can be used to analyse people's subjective participation and their social practices in everyday life. In this article, I will shorten the notion of the conduct of everyday life to the conduct of life, since throughout my research, I have gradually come to realise that people develop their health as an active life-process over time, and not in a short timeframe of their daily life activities.

The concept of the conduct of life is not only a critical psychological concept. The conduct of life can be applied as a broad concept that renders it possible to analyse people's thoughts, activities and social relations, for instance through sociological, ethnographic, psychological, and phenomenological methods. …

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