Illness

Though not particularly difficult to define in everyday usage, “illness” is a highly vexed term in the context of disability studies. “Illness” needs to be distinguished first from “disease,” its close counterpart. In academic discourse, “disease” typically refers to a pathological entity in the abstract—disembodied, as it were, rather than as experienced by any particular person. Polio is a disease, as is cancer. In contrast, “illness” refers to a particular person’s experience of a disease: its various effects on the person’s existence and identity. Thus, progressive clinical practice attends to illness rather than to disease. This approach was pioneered by Arthur Kleinman (1988), a psychiatrist and medical anthropologist. It is significant that other important figures who work in this tradition—including sociologist Arthur Frank (1995) and internist and literary critic Rita Charon (2006)—are not solely medical practitioners or researchers.

In narrative medicine, the clinician elicits, and carefully attends to, a comprehensive …

This essay may be found on page 105 of the printed volume.

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