LINGUIST List 8.288

Thu Feb 27 1997

Sum: Construction of illness

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Arran Stibbe, Construction of illness

Message 1: Construction of illness

Date: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 15:10:06 GMT+0200
From: Arran Stibbe <>
Subject: Construction of illness

Summary: The social construction of illness

I'd like to thank everyone who replied to my question on the social 
construction of illness (8.188), which asked about pathographies - 
autobiographies of people with severe illness. I have found 
pathographies particularly illuminating in understanding how 
illness affects the whole lives of patients (as opposed to symptom
histories) and I was interested if anyone else had come across 
research in this area or particularly interesting pathographies.
I am grateful for the many suggestions and references which I was given. 
The following two points will certainly influence the direction of my

1. Self-help groups are the ideal place to find pathography materials 
as well as giving the opportunity to discuss patients reactions to 
reading them.
2. Pathographies written by doctors who have become ill and crossed 
the boundary to become patients provide fascinating insights into the 
way illness is constructed different on both sides (eg see Sacks's 'A 
leg to stand on')

Among the many references given are the following. If you have any to 
add then please let me know. 

Thanks again to everyone who replied.

a) The Schizophrenia Fellowship of Victoria: 'Altered Lives Personal 
experiences of schizophrenia'
b) The Audre Lorde Compendium Essays, Speeches and Journals (1996)
Pandora London. This book includes 'the Cancer Journals' a personal 
account of Audre's experience with breast cancer.
c) Although it's not illness, Henry Kisor's account of his accommodation
to his own deafness and the world's accommodation to him as well fits
your theme, "What's that Pig Outdoors?". 
d) Joseph Heller's "No Laughing Matter" about his Guillain Barre' 
e) Oliver Sacks's _A Leg to Stand On_ is pathography in exactly the 
sense you want, and Sacks's introspection may provide some insight.
f) Mars - Fritz Zorn (English edition first published 1982 by Pan books)
g)"Framing Disease: Illness, Society, and History," by Charles E.
Rosenberg, Hospital Practice for 7/15/92, pp. 179-221; I think this
article (and the book of the same name) are indispensable.
h) Oliver Sacks: _Awakenings_, _The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a 
Hat_, and _An Anthropologist on Mars_ all deal, to some extent, with
ways in which patients construct illness. 
i) I could also recommend a volume of essays edited by Enid Rhodes
Peschel entitled _Medicine and Literature_. These essays are more
literary in nature than you perhaps are expecting, but I think 
several of them might be relevant. 
j) The anthropologist Robert Murphy's The Body Silent combines a first 
person account of his quadriplegia resulting from a tumour with a very 
readable analysis of the social and cultural dimensions of disability. 
k) Susan Sontag's essay "Illness as Metaphor" is not an autobiography
(though she wrote it while recovering from cancer), but it is a fascinating
account of metaphors and myths associated with disease. The essay is
available in a book paired with her later "AIDS and its Metaphors". I
highly recommend both essays.
l) If you haven't read Reynolds Price's *A Whole New Life*, about his 
affliction with spinal cancer, you should have a look.

A very interesting article I would add to this list is:

Hawkins, A. 1984. Two pathographies: a study in illness and literature. 
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 9(3):231-252

- --------------------------------------------------------
Arran Stibbe TEL: 27 461 318105 (W)
Department of Linguistics FAX: 27 461 25049
Rhodes University
Grahamstown 6140
South Africa
- --------------------------------------------------------
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