"Even my sister says I'm acting like a crazy to get a check": Race, gender, and moral boundary-work in women's claims of disabling chronic pain

Soc Sci Med. 2017 May;181:66-73. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.03.048. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


Recent research examines how women claim chronic pain in response to gendered moral discourses. However, extant research does not explore how race shapes the moral boundary-work performed by women suffering from disabling chronic pain. Through the qualitative analysis of twenty-four semi-structured interviews with women fibromyalgia sufferers conducted between October 2014 and August 2016 in the U.S.A., I demonstrate how women with fibromyalgia claim chronic pain by doing moral boundary-work, referencing gendered and racialized moral discourses that structure how claims of chronic pain as disability are and are not read as legitimate by doctors, disability bureaucrats and personal networks. Extending Hansen et al.'s work on stigma and the "pathologization of poverty," I suggest that, per my sample, the different moral discourses deployed in white and Black women's claims of chronic pain can be explained by the racialized and gendered boundaries of citizenship that structure U.S. welfare and disability politics. Finally, I argue for intersectionality's relevance to research on moral boundary-work and the medicalization of poverty.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Disability; Gender; Intersectionality; Morality; Race; U.S.A.; Welfare.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Pain / ethnology
  • Chronic Pain / etiology
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Continental Population Groups / ethnology
  • Continental Population Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / complications*
  • Fibromyalgia / epidemiology
  • Fibromyalgia / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Factors*
  • Social Stigma*
  • Social Welfare / ethnology
  • Social Welfare / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology