Publication Details

Kaltoft, M., Nielsen, J., Salkeld, G., & Dowie, J. (2015). Health informatics can avoid committing symbolic violence by recognizing and supporting generic decision-making competencies. Studies in Health Technology and Informatics, 218 172-177.


‘Symbolic violence’ is committed, however well-intentionally, by the imposition of particular conceptualizations of what information, in what form and quality, is needed in order to make an ‘informed choice’ and hence – by questionable segue - a high quality decision. The social and cultural forms of relevant cognitive capital possessed by those who fail, because of their low general literacy, professionally-set knowledge tests of functional health literacy, are being ignored. Failing to recognise and exploit a particular form of functional decision literacy, in fact leads to symbolic violence being experienced by individuals at any and all levels of general literacy. It leads many to adopt the same range of avoidant and other undesirable strategies within healthcare situations observed in those of low basic literacy. The alternative response we propose exploits the alternative generic decision literacy which comes in the form of the ability to access and use the decision-relevant resources provided for many consumer services and products on comparison websites and magazines. The methodology is the simple form of multi-criteria analysis in which the products' ratings on multiple criteria are combined with criterion weights (supplied by the site) to produce scores and ‘best buys’ and ‘good value for money’ verdicts. Our alternative approach extends this approach to healthcare options and permits the incorporation of personal criterion weights in furtherance of person-centred care. Health informaticians, especially those in the decision support field, should build on this widespread generic competence. The fact that it is generic, far from implying context insensitivity, can be seen as a necessary basis for achieving context-sensitivity and sensitivisation at the level of the individual person as they experience a lifelong sequence of healthcare decisions.



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