The Social Reception of Women With Cancer

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Abstract

Experiences of cancer are enmeshed with cultural understandings and social discourses around responsibility and causation. A cancer diagnosis can raise questions about its causation—including the role of the individual—whereas the disease and its treatment provide various social markers of illness. We present a sociological study of 81 women’s accounts of living with cancer, with a focus on how women interpret their illness, in light of their interpersonal interactions and accounts of social relations. Our analysis reveals women’s experiences of cancer diagnosis and treatment, the varied sociocultural meanings of cancer and the responses it elicits, the presence of moral assessments within everyday interactions, and the implications for the support and care they receive. We argue that the experience of cancer should be seen as intimately interwoven with its social reception and cultural sense-making practices, including normative constructs which promote ideas about (in)justice, responsibilization, and shame.

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