Health Literacy as a Socio-cultural Resource for Health

  • Carsten Kronborg Bak
Keywords: Health literacy, incorporated cultural capital, Bourdieu, social context, social network.


The purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of ‘health literacy’ for a sociologically interested readership. In recent years, the concept has gained greater international attention in research circles, at the World Health Organization (WHO) and among health authorities in several European countries. However, interest in the concept among Danish health authorities is modest; here interest has been in research and concept development by health science researchers. Health literacy is regarded as a ‘social determinant’ in health that can help reduce social inequality in health during the coming years. It is my belief that
sociological theories and analyses could contribute to a favorable development of the concept. The article argues that the concept should be embedded in sociological theory, and understood as a ‘sociocultural’ resource for health, rather than an individual, rational behavior focusing on the individual’s ability to find, understand, assess and use health information. Bourdieu’s capital interactions and especially social and cultural capital together with Cockerham’s collective lifestyle theory contribute to an understanding of health literacy as a socio-cultural resource in health. The article incorporates findings from various empirical studies of how health literacy is disseminated in social networks and how cultural capital and collective lifestyle influence health literacy.


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