Biographical value: towards a conceptualisation of the commodification of illness narratives in contemporary healthcare

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Abstract

Illness narratives play a central role in social studies of health and illness, serving as both a key theoretical focus and a popular research method. Despite this, relatively little work has gone into conceptualising how and why illness narratives – be they in books, websites, television or other media – are commodified in contemporary healthcare and its social environment; namely, how distinctive forms of value are generated in the production, circulation, use and exchange of illness narratives. In this article we propose the notion of biographical value as a first step towards conceptualising the values attributed to illness narratives in this context. Based on a secondary analysis of 37 interviews with people affected by 15 different health conditions in the UK (all of whom have shared their illness experiences across various media) and drawing on understandings of value in research on the bioeconomy and the concept of biovalue in particular, we sketch out how epistemic, ethical and economic forms of value converge and co-constitute each other in the notion of biographical value and in broader economies of illness experiences.

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