Narrative Analysis : ' Illness Narratives ' Essay

Narrative Analysis : ' Illness Narratives ' Essay

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Narrative analysis within anthropology has been predominantly associated with research appertaining to ‘illness narratives’, defined by Kleinman (1988) as stories people afflicted with illness tell, and their significant others retell, to accordingly express an orderly sequence of events over the course of suffering. Atkinson (1997:331), however, criticised this interpretation of the illness narrative for introducing an “isolated actor who experiences and narrates as a matter of private and privileged experience”. In this respect, Kleinman’s definition fails to take into account the immediate social context and wider cultural setting in which illness narratives are embedded. As Mattingly and Garro (2000:1) state, creating a narrative “is an active and ongoing constructive process — one that depends on both personal and cultural resources”. From this perspective, culturally shared forms of illness narratives offer a framework for explaining illness, and provide metaphors for interpreting and understanding the experience of illness (Mattingly & Garro 2000).
According to Good (1994:164) “much of what we know about illness we know though stories”. In this respect, it is possible to consider narrative as a means of sharing knowledge of illness as well as that of knowing illness. Thus, the term ‘narrative’ will be understood as a cultural process of knowing through which humankind interpret and understand experience (Bruner 1986; Polkinghorne 1988). While anthropological research appertaining to cultural knowledge of illness is predominantly segregated from this scope of enquiry, the relationship between personal interpretations and culturally shared representations of illness, as revealed in storytelling, has been addressed. Farmer (19...


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... refer to a disease, yet in actual usage it commonly refers to a type of person”. This perspective draws attention to the role of culturally shared representations of schizophrenia as a form of social categorisation. Barrett (1998:474) further argues that a person afflicted with schizophrenia is located “on the boundary line between person and non-person” and, for this reason, “is not just a marginal category but an anomaly”. This view of schizophrenia as a category of person refers to two distinct, albeit notions. The first concerns liminal entities that slip “through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space” (Turner 1964:95). The second notion derives from the idea of ‘matter out of place’, conceptualised by Douglas (1966) as when ‘pollution’ is attached to entities that fail to meet cultural classification systems.

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