Genetic risks and healthy choices: creating citizen-consumers of genetic services through empowerment and facilitation


Address for correspondence: Alison Harvey, Centre for Biomedicine and Society, King’s College London, Strand Building, Strand, London WC2R 2LS


Genetic testing to identify susceptibility to a variety of common complex diseases is increasingly becoming available. In this article, focusing on the development of genetic susceptibility testing for diet-related disease, I examine the emergence of direct-to-the-consumer genetic testing services and the (re)configuration of healthcare provision, both within and outside the specialist genetics service, in the UK. I identify two key techniques within these practices: empowerment and facilitation. Using Foucauldian social theory, I show that empowerment and facilitation are being positioned as tools for the creation of citizen-consumers who will make appropriate dietary choices, based on the results of their genetic analysis. Through these techniques, individuals are transformed into properly entrepreneurial citizens who will, through judicious choices, act to maximise their ‘vital capital’ (their health) and the capital of the social body. I argue that the user of these services is not purely an economic figure, making rational choices as a consumer, but that her configuration as a citizen-consumer who avails herself of genetic information and services in a proper manner ensures that she is fit to contribute to the economic life of our present.