Worlds of Illness: Biographical and Cultural Perspectives on Health and Disease

Worlds of Illness: Biographical and Cultural Perspectives on Health and Disease

Worlds of Illness: Biographical and Cultural Perspectives on Health and Disease

Worlds of Illness: Biographical and Cultural Perspectives on Health and Disease

Synopsis

In recent years the study of illness as experienced by patients has emerged as an approach to understanding sickness. Descriptions of the everyday situations of people with particular diseases, provide a commentary upon the nature of symptoms and upon the relation of the body to society. This approach stresses the biographical and cultural contexts in which illness arises and is borne by individuals and those who care for them. It emphasises the need to understand illness in terms of the patients own interpretation, of its onset, the course of its progress and the potential of the treatment for the condition.
Worlds of Illnessexamines people's experience of illness and their understanding of what it means to be healthy. The contributors are the first to offer this biographic and cultural approach in one volume, redefining the perspective further and drawing attention to its potential for questioning theoretical assumptions about health and illness.

Excerpt

Alan Radley

Over the past twenty years the study of illness as experienced by patients has emerged as an approach to understanding sickness and health in general. From descriptions of the everyday situations of people with particular diseases, a commentary has been made upon the nature of symptoms and upon the relation of the body to society. This approach stresses the biographical and the cultural contexts in which illness arises and is borne by patients and those who care for them. It emphasizes the need to understand illness in terms of the patient’s own interpretation of its onset, the course of its progress and the potential of the treatment for the condition.

Underlying the application of this approach is the claim that many important questions about illness—in which context it arises, what action is taken to seek treatment, its effects on other areas of life—need to be asked in the light of how people comprehend it as part of their own life situation.

The emphasis upon biographical understanding is consistent with the need to study illness in its cultural context. in this case, how people make sense of and respond to their disease or disability is a function of the everyday beliefs and practices attaching to their social groupings. These in turn are shaped by the ideologies of illness produced in society by the efforts of doctors and others to secure a cure for these conditions.

This approach makes illness something more than a temporary break in an otherwise healthy existence. This is partly the result of many present-day ailments being relatively chronic diseases, with which people have to live as best they can (Anderson and Bury 1988). the prevalence of complaints such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis tend to figure the illness condition, while at the same time reflecting other aspects of life through its intrusions and the ways with which these are dealt. This is one reason why the world of illness is not separated from the sphere of health, as might be thought when focusing upon temporary, acute afflictions only.

However, it is not just the kinds of problem that researchers choose to study which determine the form of their inquiries. There has arisen a broad . . .

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