Responsibility in Medical Sociology: A Second, Reflexive Look

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Personal responsibility has emerged as an important element in many countries’ public health planning, and has attracted substantial debate in public health discourse. Contemporary medical sociology typically resists such “responsibilization” as victim-blaming, by privileged elites, that obscures important structural factors and inequities. This paper, based primarily on a broad review of how contemporary Anglophone medical sociology literatures treat responsibility and blame, points out advantages of taking responsibility seriously, particularly from the individual’s perspective. These advantages include: empowerment; responsibility-as-coping-mechanism; moral dignity; and the pragmatic logic of doing for oneself, rather than passively awaiting societal reforms. We also offer possible reasons why sociologists and their subjects view these issues so differently, and suggest some areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-684
Number of pages22
JournalThe American Sociologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Blaming the victim
  • Ideology
  • Medical sociology
  • Neoliberalism
  • Public health
  • Responsibility


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