‘I’ll tell you what suits me best if you don’t mind me saying’: ‘lay participation’ in health-care
Increasing ‘lay participation’ in healthcare has become a popular notion in recent years and is generally considered to be a good thing in both nursing and wider policy circles. Yet despite the widespread acceptance of this overall idea, there is a dearth of theorising in this area. This has resulted in a lack of conceptual clarity which has not only hamstrung the development of empirical work in the field, but has also led to a tendency by both nurses and policy-makers to assume that greater ‘lay participation’ in health will lead to a concomitant increase in lay power vis-à-vis health professionals. The data presented in this paper indicate that this is, at best, an over-simplistic assumption and, at worst, an erroneous one. Drawing on sociological theories of the division of labour, I suggest that one way in which we might begin to clarify our thinking in this area is by differentiating between the ‘role’ and ‘task’ components of ‘lay participation’. I illustrate my argument with reference to two separate ethnographic studies undertaken between 1994 and 1998 in which participation at the level of the individual was examined.