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‘Reflexivity’, as used by Margaret Archer, means creative self‐mastery that enables individuals to evaluate their social situation and act purposively within it. People with complex health and social needs may be less able to reflect on their predicament and act to address it. Reflexivity is imperative in complex and changing social situations. The substantial widening of health inequities since the introduction of remote and digital modalities in health care has been well‐documented but inadequately theorised. In this article, we use Archer’s theory of fractured reflexivity to understand digital disparities in data from a 28‐month longitudinal ethnographic study of 12 UK general practices and a sample of in‐depth clinical cases from ‘Deep End’ practices serving highly deprived populations. Through four composite patient cases crafted to illustrate different dimensions of disadvantage, we show how adverse past experiences and structural inequities intersect with patients’ reflexive capacity to self‐advocate and act strategically. In some cases, staff were able to use creative workarounds to compensate for patients’ fractured reflexivity, but such actions were limited by workforce capacity and staff awareness. Unless a more systematic safety net is introduced and resourced, people with complex needs are likely to remain multiply disadvantaged by remote and digital health care.

Original publication




Journal article


Sociology of Health & Illness



Publication Date



digital healthcare, remote healthcare, disadvantage, inequities, reflexive imperative, fractured reflexivity