Possibility and agency in Figured Worlds: Becoming a ‘good doctor’

Deirdre Bennett, Yvette Solomon, Colm Bergin, Mary Horgan, Tim Dornan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
1532 Downloads (Pure)


Context: Figured Worlds is a socio-cultural theory drawing on Vygotskian and Bakhtinian traditions, which has been applied in research into the development of identities of both learners and teachers in the wider education literature. It is now being adopted in medical education.

Objective: The objective of this paper is to show what Figured Worlds can offer in medical education. Having explained some of its central tenets, we apply it to an important tension in our field.

Application: The assumption that there is a uniform ‘good doctor’ identity, which must be inculcated into medical students, underlies much of what medical educators do, and what our regulators enforce. While diversity is encouraged when students are selected for medical school, pressure to professionalise students creates a drive towards a standardised professional identity by graduation. Using excerpts from reflective pieces written by two junior medical students, we review the basic concepts of Figured Worlds and demonstrate how it can shed light on the implications of this tension. Taking a Bakhtinian approach to discourse, we show how Adam and Sarah develop their professional identities as they negotiate the multiple overlapping and competing ways of being a doctor which they encounter in the world of medical practice. Each demonstrates agency by ‘authoring’ a unique identity in the cultural world of medicine, as they appropriate and re-voice the words of others.

Discussion: Finally, we consider some important areas in medical education where Figured Worlds might prove to be a useful lens: the negotiation of discourses of gender, sexuality and social class, career choice as identification within specialty-specific cultural worlds, and the influence of hidden and informal curricula on doctor identity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
Early online date29 Dec 2016
Publication statusEarly online date - 29 Dec 2016


  • Identity
  • Figured worlds
  • Good doctor
  • discourse analysis
  • Bakhtin


Dive into the research topics of 'Possibility and agency in Figured Worlds: Becoming a ‘good doctor’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this