Narratives of risk : women at midlife, 'medical experts' and health technologies
The 'management' of midlife women's bodies is becoming an increasingly important focus for both themselves and medical 'experts'. Health technologies play a major part in this process, given health promotion messages about their usefulness for maintaining and enhancing the quality of life. But how do individual women interpret such messages? This paper explores the factors that impact upon health decision making in relation to a group of these technologies. In particular, we examine how related risks are assessed by women themselves and jointly with health professionals, in the clinical context. Drawing upon literature from the sociology of the body and embodiment, debates about risk and feminist research on the menopause, we argue that midlife needs to be understood as an embodied experience and that women's decisions about technology-based health interventions need to be contextualised. The paper draws upon research data from interviews with individual women and health professionals, and recordings of clinical consultations which relate to the specific technologies of HRT, bone densitometry and breast screening. The data reveal the emergence of two major risk narratives within consultations and interviews, health risks and social risks. We conclude that the health decisions and practices of both lay women and health professionals reflect a complex mixture of expert knowledge and advice, and embodied cultural experience.