Method as Responsibility in Applied Research

Liliana Gil Sousa, Filipa Queirós


Health literacy has become a key-element of public health promotion – rising as a discipline, a career and even a transactional value – and a variety of professionals have assembled around it. This paper departs from the divergent notions of health knowledge that such heterogeneity entails. Embracing a patient-centered and narrative-oriented approach, our objective is to problematize the ways in which health knowledge has been conceived in common health literacy approaches, and explore unconventional in-depth assessment strategies.

Drawing from our experience of working in a literacy assessment project focused on asthma, cancer and child obesity, as well as John Law’s ideas about the onto-political dimensions of method, we argue that selecting a methodology entails an important responsibility of the social researcher in constructing reality, in this case in enacting a particularly consequential definition of health knowledge. Here, we reconstruct the steps through which the project’s methodology was developed, with emphasis on the adaptation of the McGill Illness Interview Schedule. We also present some of the project’s results and point to future directions. Asking what it means to know about health and what the role of social science should be in studying health knowledge, the ultimate goal of this paper is to contribute to the discussion on how applied research can be intellectually, ethically and politically responsible.


health knowledge; health literacy; medical information; methodology; narratives of experience

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