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Embodying risk, embodying political rationality: women's accounts of risks for breast cancer

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'Risk' has become one of the defining cultural characteristics of Western society at the end of the twentieth century. As in other areas of life, 'risk' has become central to discourses related to individual health; that is, risk has become a common construct around which health in Western society is described, organised, and practised, both personally and professionally. The purpose of this paper is to explore the notion of a 'phenomenology of risk' by considering the results of a preliminary study undertaken to explore the themes which emerge in women's accounts of their own individual risks for breast cancer. A second purpose is to move towards situating the phenomenology of risk within the social and political context within which individual experience occurs. To that end, this study was framed theoretically within the emerging social science literature which examines the broader social and political meanings and implications of health risk discourses. This paper demonstrates that by embodying prevailing discourses on health risks in general, and on breast cancer risk in particular, the women in this study have embodied a political rationality, which, among other things, reconstitutes them as autonomous, responsible 'entrepreneurial subjects'. The phenomenological and political implications of the findings of this study are considered.


Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Public Health Sciences, McMurrich Building, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 1A8, Canada

Publication date: 2000-07-01

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