University of Sussex
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Listening to women: political narratives of breast cancer in Spain

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posted on 2023-06-08, 10:16 authored by Ana Porroche-Escudero
The thesis examines the complex relationship between individual experiences of breast cancer and the wider social, political and discursive context in which they are located. It focuses on how Spanish women living with breast cancer define their own health priorities by exploring their experiences and their dissatisfactions, which appear to have been excluded from public and biomedical discourses. The data was collected in a provincial city in Western Spain and focused on the lived experiences of 32 women living and surviving breast cancer. Interviews were mainly conducted in the headquarters of the Spanish Association against Cancer of that region, but also at women’s homes and in other public spaces. Based upon a framework of narratives of resistance, grounded in feminist theory, critical medical anthropology and sociology, an ethnographic approach allowed a focus on breast cancer patients and survivors as ‘experts’ of their own health, addressing fundamental concerns in the production of knowledge. The thesis discusses the relationship between breast cancer and social inequality. It examines the dramatic ways that structures of power such as class, age, gender, and disability, intersect and “conspire” through a web of social beliefs, practices, norms and expectations to shape, and exacerbate, women’s experiences of illness, in particular, of those women who need health care the most. The research also highlights the ways in which the experiential symptoms of breast cancer are portrayed and perceived in public and medical discourses in sexual terms or physiological terms, which ignores the wider social and embodied contexts of women’s experiences. By answering the call made by feminist writers such as Wilkinson (2001) and Broom (2000) to listening to the narratives of resistance of these Spanish women, this study therefore offers both a particular cultural account of their collaboration with a range of institutions such as health professionals, charities, the family and the social care system, but also valuable lay experiences which are more generally relevant to wider healthcare practice and policy.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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