New directions for critical internet health studies: representing cancer experience on the web


Address for correspondence: Clive Seale, School of Social Sciences and Law, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH


Studies of health representations on the internet have been preoccupied with the assessment of their (medically-defined) accuracy and quality. This contrasts with studies of health representations in ‘old’ media, where critical sociological analyses are common. Medical sociologists have been concerned to establish the potential of web information in transforming professional-client relations. A case study of breast and prostate cancer web sites provides evidence of the increasing convergence of the ‘new’ medium of the internet and old media such as newspapers and television. Large institutions are now consolidating their presence on the web so that users experience increasingly similar messages across media platforms. Search engines and links to the web from old media sources direct people to heavily resourced, mainstream health sites where, in the case of cancer, representations of gender are strikingly similar to those found in studies of old media sources. The media convergence thesis contrasts with earlier celebrations of the internet as a new medium that would promote a diversity of perspectives on health. Using existing methods for analysing media texts and developing new methods where appropriate, sociologists and media analysts interested in health need to develop more critical perspectives on this important new medium.