• HIV positive;
  • sick role;
  • empowerment;
  • Parsons;
  • rights;
  • duties

This paper addresses the relevance of Parsons’ concept of the ‘sick role’ to the experience of illness in contemporary society by building on recent research, which suggests that the increasing predominance of chronic disease changes the temporal structure of the experience of illness. This has important implications for the structure of social expectations and obligations associated with the ‘sick role’. In particular, recent advocates of ‘insider’ views of illness and the related promotion of ideologies of ‘patient empowerment’ have contested assumptions of dependency implicit within the concept of the ‘sick role’, presenting a far more ‘independent’ and ‘proactive’ vision of the sick individual. With specific application to a group of people living relatively long term with an HIV positive diagnosis, this paper addresses some of the implicit ambiguities manifest in the self-empowerment ethos, highlighting some implicit dependencies underlying the rhetoric of empowerment and concluding that a more structural analysis of illness experiences, such as that proposed by Parsons, may be apposite.