Informal interactions about health: connectedness, surveillance and the construction of a moral identity

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Julia Hiscock


This thesis is about the informal interactions about health that take place between friends and family. An important distinction of this study is that these connections are conceptualised as interactions rather than as helping, caring or support and so, as well as larger scale help, the study is also concerned with conversations about health and small-scale, fleeting or incidental interactions about health. It is argued that only by combining all of these types of interactions is it possible to begin to understand broader issues of sociological importance about the ways that people relate to one another, and how a seemingly personal task such as managing and maintaining one‟s health becomes enmeshed with the input from and connections with other people.Drawing on literature from both the sociology of health and illness and the sociology of personal life, the thesis analyses the way that people present moral narratives of their informal interactions about health and engage with the moral meaning of these health interactions, whether as part of a moral project of the self, an obligation to follow moral norms or out of a sense of moral emotion. It engages theoretically with the individualization and connectedness theses and asks whether health interactions challenge the individualization thesis.An interpretive approach was taken and 25 qualitative interviews were conducted with a sample of people with either heart disease or mild to moderate mental health problems.Examples of a range of health interactions were identified, which included practical, emotional and advice giving interactions. These were often gendered, not always welcomed or positive, and often involved monitoring, surveillance or governmentality. Health interactions were found to be more than a simple transfer of assistance, and relational dynamics going on within the interactions were discovered and discussed.Moral narratives were also identified, where people used health interactions in a number of different ways to construct a moral identity and as part of a moral project of the self. However, the data do not entirely support the notion that health interactions were moral narratives or served the function of identity building, as there were also clear examples of people engaging in health interactions out of a sense of genuine care and because it mattered to them to do so. This moral concern or moral emotion influenced and underpinned many of the health interactions explored in this thesis.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2013