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.
Bibliographical noteThe authors would like to thank all the interview participants, the primary researchers who conducted the interviews and the organisations that funded the original studies. Without the time and commitment of all those involved this work would not have been possible. The anonymous reviewers provided extremely useful feedback on a previous version of this article. The iPEx (2011) programme presents independent research commissioned by the NIHR under its Programme Grants for Applied Research funding scheme (RP-PG-0608–10147). The views expressed in this article are those of the authors, representing iPEx, and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.
- illness narratives
- sharing experiences