Being a patient among other patients: Refugees' political inclusion through the Austrian solidarity-based healthcare system

Wanda Spahl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper is an empirical study of what solidarity in a Western European healthcare system means today. Drawing upon empirical research on the 2015 refugee cohort's health needs and their health-seeking behaviour, it unites claims from the literature on solidarity in the fields of migration and healthcare. I argue that the Austrian healthcare system not only is an example of ‘civic solidarity’ in the form of institutionalised obligations to citizens but that it also enacts political forms of solidarity and produces political inclusion for marginalised groups such as refugees. My findings show that being entitled to and accessing services in the healthcare system holds meaning beyond the provision of care: It enables to act autonomously, to build familiar relationships with Austrian institutions, inclusion via the personal electronic health card and to support others in the same solidaristic system. These insights can be used to raise awareness about the inclusional function of healthcare services among practitioners. They also show how solidarity-based healthcare systems can be a motor for shaping positive relationships between immigrants and the host country, and point to additional modes of solidarity in the context of forced migration next to civil society and nonstate support structures. This paper builds upon ethnographic data that were collected between 2018 and 2020 in Vienna, Austria (observational notes before, during and after medical consultations with refugees; interviews with them; interviews with healthcare practitioners and other care providers).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-129
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • citizenship
  • health
  • inclusion
  • refugees
  • solidarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health (social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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