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Title: 'Malignant melancholia' : biomedical discourses of 'surveillance' and 'responsibility' surrounding women 'at risk' of developing breast cancer from the end of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twenty-first century
Author: Lynch, Thomas James
ISNI:       0000 0004 2745 6964
Awarding Body: Lancaster University
Current Institution: Lancaster University
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis aims to identify and critically evaluate the ideological underpinnings of breast cancer 'risk' within a chronological timeline which examines debates and contemporary literatures that have critiqued biomedical discourses from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day; it does not intend to document the 'history' of breast cancer 'risk as such, but rather seeks to arrange the respective chapters around theoretical themes relating to social construction of the concept. Within this context, the thesis is an exercise in sociological rather than historical scholarship, and adopts a social constructionist approach that contrasts sharply with attempts to view development of the disease from a biomedical approach primarily concerned with aetiology and subsequent treatment regimens. A Foucauldian perspective has had the greatest impact on my thinking in this thesis, particularly in relation to how the concept of 'risk' may construct norms of behaviour that encourage individuals to control, regulate and discipline their own bodies by engaging voluntarily in techniques of ethical self- formation and internal self-regulation. Foucauldian theory encouraged me to situate the concept of breast cancer 'risk' within the context of changing social and cultural attitudes and medical beliefs, and thus illuminate the way in which existing practices coexisted with, reinforced, transformed and displaced one another, becoming subject to continuous reinterpretation and emerging as 'new' practices at critical junctures. This thesis contributes new and detailed knowledge about discourses of 'surveillance' and 'responsibility' surrounding women 'at risk' of developing breast cancer and thus attempts to further our understanding of these elements of the disease. Taking my lead from postmodern and poststructuralist feminist theoretical perspectives, I shall argue that a gendered notion of personal responsibility for monitoring (and thereby preventing) breast cancer through internal vigilance and self-surveillance has remained constant throughout this period, albeit in various guises. The stereotypical gendered identity of an individual woman as the 'caretaker' of the family often resulted in a social obligation on her to carefully monitor and protect her own health status so that she also remained able to preserve and maintain the health and well-being of other family members. By defining them predominantly in terms of gendered obligation, healthy women deemed to be 'at risk' of developing breast cancer may have felt pressured to conform to biomedical commands all morally relevant things considered, subjecting themselves to a delineated set of prophylactic biomedical interventions even before breast cancer was diagnosed - if it ever was to be.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available