Skip to main content

The domestication of an everyday health technology: A case study of electric toothbrushes

Abstract

Using the electric toothbrush as an example, this article examines the growing acceptability of domestic health technologies that blur the traditional boundaries between health, aesthetics and consumption. By using empirical material from individual and household interviews about people’s oral health practices, this research explores the relationships between an everyday artefact, its users and their environments. It investigates the ways in which oral health technologies do, or do not, become domesticated in the home environment. We conclude that the domestication of oral health technologies is not inevitable, with the electric toothbrush often becoming an ‘unstable object’ in the domestic setting.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    This study received ethical approval from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s ethics committee before the fieldwork commenced.

References

  1. Akrich, M. and Latour, B. (1992) A summary of a convenient vocabulary for the semiotics of human and nonhuman assemblies. In: W.E. Bijker and J. Law (eds.) Shaping Technology/Building Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aune, M. (1996) The computer in everyday life: Patterns of domestication of a new technology. In: M. Lie and K.H. Sørensen (eds.) Making Technology Our Own? Domesticating Technologies into Everyday Life. Oslo, Norway: SUP.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bunton, R. and Burrows, R. (1995) Consumption and health in the ‘epidemiological’ clinic of late modern medicine. In: R. Bunton, S. Netttleton and R. Burrows (eds.) The Sociology of Health Promotion. London: Routledge.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  4. Callon, M. (1987) Society in the making: The study of technology as a tool for sociological analysis. In: W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes and T.J. Pinch (eds.) The Social Construction of Technical Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger. London: Routledge Kegan Paul.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Exley, C. (2009) Bridging a gap: the (lack of a) sociology of oral health and healthcare. Sociology of Health & Illness 31 (7): 1093–1108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Fairclough, N. (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Longman.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Fox, N., Ward, K. and O’Rourke, A.J. (2005) The ‘expert patient’: Empowerment or medical dominance? The case of weight loss, pharmaceutical drugs and the internet. Social Science & Medicine 60 (6): 1299–1309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Fox, N. and Ward, K. (2006) Health identities: From expert patient to resisting consumer. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine 10 (4): 461–479.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Green, J. and Hart, L. (1999) The impact of context on data. In: R. Barbour and J. Kitzinger (eds.) Developing Focus Group Research: Politics, Theory and Practice. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Jardim, J., Alves, L. and Maltz, M. (2009) The history and global market of oral home-care products. Brazilian Oral Research 23 (Special Issue 1): 17–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Kitzinger, J. (1994) The methodology of focus groups: The importance of interaction between research participants. Sociology of Health & Illness 16 (1): 103–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Latour, B. (1992) Where are the missing masses? Sociology of a few mundane artefacts. In: W. Bijker and J. Law (eds.) Shaping Technology/Building Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Latour, B. (1999) Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Lie, M. and Sørensen, K.H. (eds.) (1996) Making technology our own? Domesticating technologies into everyday life. In: Making Technology Our Own? Domesticating Technologies into Everyday Life. Oslo, Norway: SUP.

    Google Scholar 

  16. McGrath, K. and Travers, B. (1998) World of Invention. Washington DC: Gale Research.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Michael, M. (2000) Reconnecting Culture, Technology and Nature: From Society to Heterogeneity. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Michael, M. (1997) Inoculating gadgets against ridicule. Science as Culture 6 (2): 167–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Mielczarek, M. et al (2012) A novel power toothbrush with multi-directional, triple zone cleaning technology. American Journal of Dentistry 25 (Special Issue A): 4A–9A.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Nettleton, S. (1988) Protecting a vulnerable margin: Towards an analysis of how the mouth came to be separated from the body. Sociology of Health & Illness 10 (2): 156–169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Nettleton, S. (1991) Wisdom, diligence, and teeth: Discursive practices and the creation of mothers. Sociology of Health & Illness 13: 98–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Nettleton, S. (1992) Power, Pain and Dentistry. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Oudshoorn, N. and Pinch, T. (eds.) (2003) How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Perri, Jupp, B. and Bentley, T. (1996) Open Wide: Futures for Dentistry in 2010. London: Demos.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Potter, J. and Wetherell, M. (1987) Discourse and Social Psychology. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Prout, A. (1996) Actor network theory, technology and medical sociology: An illustrative analysis of the metered dose inhaler. Sociology of Health & Illness 18 (2): 198–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Rip, A. (2003) Constructing expertise: In a third wave of science studies? Social Studies of Science 33 (3): 419–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Shove, E. and Southerton, D. (2000) Defrosting the freezer: From novelty to convenience. Journal of Material Culture 5 (3): 301–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Silverstone, R., Hirsh, E. and Morley, D. (1992) Information and communication technologies and the moral economy of the household. In: R. Silverstone and E. Hirsh (eds.) Consuming Technologies: Media and Information in Domestic Spaces. London: Routledge.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  30. Starr Sered, S. and Fernandopulle, R. (2005) Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Thorogood, N. (2000) Mouthrules and the construction of sexual identities. Sexualities 3 (2): 165–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Warde, A. (2005) Consumption and theories of practice. Journal of Consumer Culture 5 (2): 131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Whelton, H. (2004) Overview of the impact of changing global patterns of dental caries experience on caries clinical trials. Journal of Dental Research 83 (S1): C29–C34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Wong, V. (2012) SmithKline Beecham Healthcare (SBCH): Dr Best Flex toothbrush. In: P. Doyle and S. Bridgewater (eds.) Innovations in Marketing. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Simon Carter.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Carter, S., Green, J. & Thorogood, N. The domestication of an everyday health technology: A case study of electric toothbrushes. Soc Theory Health 11, 344–367 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1057/sth.2013.15

Download citation

Keywords

  • electric toothbrush
  • science and technology studies
  • household interviews
  • mundane technologies
  • oral health