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As we enter an era of so-called Do it Yourself health, “patient agency” has become a dominant theme in public discourses of health and medicine. Despite increased salience, patient agency remains a vague term that is capable of being operationalized and moralized in ways that escape attention. To illustrate this, I chart common rhetorical configurations of patient agency in public discourses of health and medicine, and in doing so find that patient agency is commonly rhetoricized as one of three overlapping patient capacities: the capacity to know, the capacity to prevent, and the capacity to decide. Ultimately, I argue that these three rhetorics of patient agency can be deployed to cultivate health subjectivities imbued with untenable ideals of individual control that constrain, rather than open, patients’ rhetorical choices.


agency, rhetoric, risk, responsibility, online health

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