Article Text

Download PDFPDF
94 Drivers to overdiagnosis: anthropological perspectives on epistemic battles
  1. Alexandra Brandt Ryborgrg Joensson1,2,
  2. Cindi SturtzSreetharan3,
  3. Elspeth Davies4
  1. 1Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark
  2. 2Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
  3. 3Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
  4. 4University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK


A high prevalence of overdiagnosis is well documented in high-income countries (REF) and is increasingly recognized in low-income countries (Albarqouni et al. 2022). But while overdiagnosis is increasingly discussed in medicine and public health, it is yet to receive significant attention in the social sciences, in particular, anthropology (Jønsson 2023). Rather, the closely related term ‘medicalization’ is predominantly used. Despite ongoing debates on the definition (Armstrong 2021), medicalization can generally be said to be the process of defining and treating human differences and problems as medical problems. It differs from overdiagnosis by being non-normative, used analytically to examine a phenomenon in its own right (Conrad & Bergey 2015:105), while overdiagnosis is defined as a pervasive problem that are inevitably harmful (Jønsson og Brodersen 2022:26-27).

This seminar aims to contribute to an ethnography of overdiagnosis through dynamics of health practices, asymptomatic healthcare seeking and cultural perceptions of disease.

The contributors will speak about.

*expanding disease definitions including the emergence of obesity as a disease.

Speaker Cindi SturtzSreetharan, Associate Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, USA.

*experiences of being diagnosed with melanoma in situ and the consequences of raising awareness of overdiagnosis for those who have already been transformed into ‘cancer patients’

Speaker Elspeth Davies, PhD Candidate, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK.

*experiences of women pursuing the Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) diagnosis.

Speaker Alexandra Brandt Ryborg Jønsson, Associate Professor, Department of People and Technology, Roskilde University, Denmark.

Through three different ethnographic studies, the presenters will attend to overdiagnosis from an everyday perspective that recognizes patients’ and healthcare professionals’ experiences and perceptions while also taking the cultural, social and political context into account.

The seminar is chaired by Elspeth Davies, University of Cambridge, UK.

Investigating social dynamics of overdiagnosis, the seminar will discuss how to contribute new knowledge about the intricate relation between culture, institutions, professional practice and individual healthcare seeking. Such knowledge will be of imminent importance to prevent and mitigate overdiagnosis, but also add to overdiagnosis as an emerging social science research field.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.