The General Practice Health Waiting Area in Images: Threshold, Borderland, and Place of Transition in the Sense of Self

  • Gary Clapton The University of Edinburgh
Keywords: waiting, waiting experience, calming and unsettling, agency, docility, thresholds, from citizen to patient, supplicant status, photo-documentation


The waiting rooms and areas of general practice (GP) health facilities are places that nearly all of us will find ourselves in but the waiting experience is under-explored. What happens to our sense of self when we move between the outside world where we are citizens and these spaces where we become patients-in-waiting? I begin with what has been written about waiting in general and in health waiting areas in particular. I then discuss a photo-documentation study of twenty-two GP waiting rooms in Edinburgh, Scotland and explore the questions that arise from the resultant images.

Examples are presented that illustrate the unique place of the waiting room in the patient journey between the outside world and the encounter with their doctor. Examples are given of both calm-inducing and unsettling elements. Potentially disempowering processes are identified occasioned by the waiting experience and the issue of the transition in sense of self is raised. I conclude by pointing to other waiting areas and places where such dynamics and processes might be more acute.


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Author Biography

Gary Clapton, The University of Edinburgh

Gary CLAPTON is a senior lecturer in social work, in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He holds a PhD in social work from the University of Edinburgh (2000), a master in sociology and social policy from the University of North London (1993) and is a qualified social worker. His main research interests are within the field of fathers and families, adoption and moral panics. He is happily out of his comfort zone with this enquiry into waiting.

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