Ph.D. Candidate Athena Engman on “Embodiment and the foundation of biographical disruption”

Ph.D. Candidate Athena Engman recently published an article in Social Science and Medicine, entitled, “Embodiment and the foundation of biographical disruption.” The article reported on data regarding the experiences of 36 post-operative organ transplant recipients. Therefore, the article aims to categorize the conditions that cause “biological disruption” to emerge. This describes the way that individuals with a disease are sometimes forced to rethink the way that they live. Therefore, the article discovers how thee conditions may have the effect of either delaying or mitigating the experience of illness as a biological disruption.

Athena Engman is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research interests include medical sociology, social theory, and epistemology.

The citation and abstract have been posted below. The full text is available here.

Athena Engman, Embodiment and the foundation of biographical disruption, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 225, 2019, Pages 120-127, ISSN 0277-9536, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.02.019.

The concept of biographical disruption has now enjoyed nearly 40 years of use in medical sociology. This paper argues that taking an embodied approach to biographical disruption helps to explain the concept’s enduring efficacy. Drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and contemporary theories of embodiment inspired by his phenomenology, this paper advances that biographical disruption involves, in the first instance, a disruption to the ability to enact an embodied orientation towards the world. Biographical disruption does not, from this perspective, result from illness as such, but from the ways that illness impinges on one’s physical ability to engage with daily life.

This paper examines the experiences of solid organ transplant recipients for the purpose of shedding light on the conditions under which biographical disruption arises in experience. The analysis includes interviews with 36 post-operative solid organ transplant recipients (heart, liver, lung, and kidney) living in British Columbia or Ontario, Canada. These participants exhibit a wide range of illness experiences, some of which manifest as biographical disruption and others that do not. Tracing the contours of these experiences, this paper argues that the efficacy of biographical disruption for describing the illness experience depends not only on the illness experience but also, fundamentally, on the content of embodiment prior to the onset of that experience.