Abstract: The radicalized self: the impact on the self of the contested nature of the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome

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Soc Sci Med. 2003 Oct;57(8):1387-95.  Clarke JN, James S.  Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Wilfrid Laurier University, N2L 3C5, Waterloo, ON, Canada

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a relatively new disease that is difficult to diagnose. It is also a contested disease immersed in dispute about whether it is a physical or psychiatric reality. Sufferers often claim to experience not only the physical challenges of the disease, and these can be extensive, but also, initially, the anomie of suffering from a condition whose very reality is debated both in the medical and in the wider communities.

Theories of self in illness emphasize how people who are diagnosed as chronically ill work hard as they seek to maintain previous, or to develop supernormal, selves. Such goals are cast in a critical light by Foucault's notion of the technologies of self in the context of circulating neo-liberal discourses. As people with CFS, lacking an uncontested medical diagnosis, search for meaningful self-identities, they resist previously available discourses to take up an alternative discourse, one that we call radicalized selves.

This paper raises questions about the constraints and liberties, power and powerlessness associated with a clear and undisputed medical diagnosis. It suggests a model of the self in chronic illness that considers not only changes in body and biography but also the availability of an uncontested diagnosis.

PMID: 12927469 [PubMed – in process]