Reviews

Quality of life research: a critical introduction

Many books have been published on quality of life research in recent years, but few are as thought provoking or original as this one. It is essential reading for anyone who has a serious and critical interest in this topic.

The book is divided into two major sections, with part one examining the theory of quality of life, while part two examines practice.

Given the vast field of quality of life literature, the author is necessarily selective. However, the most important applications of quality of life are examined. So, for instance, there are chapters on the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY), the social indicators movement, and various approaches to quality-of-life research.

However, what is refreshing about this book is not simply the range of issues examined, but the critical way in which this is done. Rapley draws attention to the fact that the concept of quality of life appears to throw a cloak of scientific legitimacy over deeply problematic ethical issues in the practice of health care and medicine. These issues include selective abortion, the allocation of scarce resources to some groups of people at the expense of others, and

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The book is divided into two major sections, with part one examining the theory of quality of life, while part two examines practice.

Given the vast field of quality of life literature, the author is necessarily selective. However, the most important applications of quality of life are examined. So, for instance, there are chapters on the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY), the social indicators movement, and various approaches to quality-of-life research.

However, what is refreshing about this book is not simply the range of issues examined, but the critical way in which this is done. Rapley draws attention to the fact that the concept of quality of life appears to throw a cloak of scientific legitimacy over deeply problematic ethical issues in the practice of health care and medicine. These issues include selective abortion, the allocation of scarce resources to some groups of people at the expense of others, and the practice of euthanasia.

I found the book to be interesting, not only for its focus on the quality of life, but also for the approach it takes. To me, one of the most valuable chapters is chapter five, Researching QOL as a cultural object. Rapley’s approach draws on Foucault and the notion of discourse to show that quality of life is not simply a social fact describing the lives of individuals or communities, but that: ‘it derives its legitimation as a site of social scientific study not so much from advances in science... but rather from its subsumability into projects of governmentality and the discourse of the enterprise culture.’

This book is essential reading for postgraduate students undertaking research into the quality of life. Teachers will also find that it provides interesting illustrative material about the debate between quantitative/objective approaches versus qualitative/subjective approaches to research into health. Finally, it will also be of interest to anyone looking for a case study of the application of Foucault to the development of health and social policy.

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