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Sociological and psychological theories of self-neglect


William Lauder,
School of Nursing and Health Studies,
Central Queensland University,


Background. Self-neglect can be defined as the failure to engage in those self-care actions necessary to maintain a socially acceptable standard of personal and household hygiene and/or a failure to adequately care for one's own health. It is generally acknowledged that research and practice in the area of self-neglect has been hampered by a lack of theoretical development. Socio-psychological theories, such as ‘social constructivism’ and ‘negotiated interactionism’ can contribute to a deeper understanding of the phenomenon and to the further development of self-neglect theory.

Aims. This paper seeks to apply social and psychological theories to understanding self-neglect. Self-neglect is an underconceptualized phenomenon, which requires to be studied within a broader theoretical context than is at present the case.

Implications. Sociological and psychological theories offer radically different ways of looking at self-neglect, as opposed to the medical model, as they seek to explain and understand, rather than simply classify it as a medical disorder caused by some form of underlying psychopathology. These theories emphasize the dynamic and interpretative nature of self-neglect and illustrate the arbitrary way in which this label is applied.