The genesis of chronic illness: narrative re-construction

Sociol Health Illn. 1984 Jul;6(2):175-200. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.ep10778250.


In this paper I demonstrate the way in which people's beliefs about the aetiology of their particular affliction (arthritis) need to be understood as part of a more comprehensive imaginative enterprise which I refer to as narrative reconstruction. The intrinsically teleological form of this enterprise means that identified 'causes' represent only putative efficient connexions between the disease and antecedent factors but also narrative reference points between the individual and society in an unfolding process which has become profoundly disrupted. Through the presentation of case material taken from lengthy interviews I illustrate the way in which my question to the subjects about the cause of their disease: 'Why do you think you got arthritis?' was translated by them into a narrative reconstruction of their changing relationship to the world in which they live and the genesis of illness within it.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / psychology
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Chronic Disease / etiology
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • England
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Religion
  • Sociology, Medical*