The label ‘modernisation’, originally coined to signify reform within the Labour Party, has since 1997 increasingly been used as a descriptor of various facets of public policy. This paper addresses three questions, all in the context of health policy. What (if anything) is the impact of the notion of modernisation on NHS medical labour process, what is its substantive content, and how might we explain its rise to prominence? On the first question, I suggest that a model of medicine (which I term ‘scientific-bureaucratic medicine’) is being developed that embodies many of the specific characteristics of Fordist labour processes. On the second question, I suggest that ‘modernisation’ denotes a philosophy towards the governance of the NHS which entails the distinctive characteristics of the project which social theorists have termed ‘modernity’. The third question has particular significance in a social context (variously termed ‘late modernity’ or ‘postmodernity’) generally thought of as characterised by trends towards postFordist labour processes. I tentatively suggest that scientific-bureaucratic medicine can be viewed as the state's (not necessarily successful) strategy for coping with radical consumerism and changing perceptions of risk and expertise in the context of health and medicine.
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