Applying Bourdieu's theory to accounts of living with multimorbidity

Chronic Illn. 2012 Jun;8(2):89-101. doi: 10.1177/1742395311420178. Epub 2011 Dec 2.


Objectives: Chronic illness is well researched. Broadly, empirical enquiry has focused on either determinants of behaviors or exploring lived experiences. This paper attempts to advance understandings of the lived experience of multimorbidity in broader cultural and structural settings.

Methods: Twenty-three people in their early 50s were recruited from a community health survey in Scotland. The participants had 4 or more chronic illnesses and were interviewed twice. Key concepts of Bourdieu were applied to the data set

Results: The analysis presented here is organized around 4 sections: 1) Habitus, capitals and the ill body; 2) Relational positioning; 3) Illness and symbolic violence; 4) The GP as dispenser of capitals. Applying Bourdieu's theory to the accounts highlighted how broader cultural structures worked their way into personal illness narratives and illustrated how living with multimorbidity is a dialectic of structure and agency.

Discussion: Interventions and support for those with multimorbidity need to take into account the tensions of opposing habitus underpinning medical encounters and the ongoing negotiation of structure and agency which is integral to living with chronic illness and underpins illness actions such as help-seeking and self-managing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Physician-Patient Relations*