Representations of stigmatised health issues in Scottish fiction 1979-present

Year of award: 2017


  • Sarah Spence

    University of Glasgow

Project summary

The Glasgow Effect is the phenomenon of poor health and high mortality in Scotland, even after accounting for socioeconomic factors. Many associated health issues, such as obesity, drug abuse and mental ill health, are stigmatised. This is especially significant in neoliberal contexts where health is viewed as the individual’s responsibility – neglect of which can be deemed a failure. These health issues are also associated with Scottishness in news and popular culture, a cultural imagery generated by – yet also independent of – sociological fact.

This project will examine representations of these stigmatised health issues in Scottish fiction (1979-present). I follow critics in disability, madness and fat studies, such as G Thomas Couser, Brenda LeFrançois and Esther Rothblum, who all recognise the counterdiscursive possibility in illness narratives and the role of sociopolitical factors in representations of health.

Through close reading and comparative analysis of key literary texts, I will explore illness narrative structures, identity politics, and how Scottish authors engage with or challenge dominant health discourses. I will use: Mitchell and Snyder’s concept of narrative prosthesis, which argues ‘deviant’ bodies illuminate bodily norms; theories on illness writing and reader response by Jurecic and Hunsaker Hawkins; and Arthur Frank’s illness narrative categorisations. To understand the fiction’s context, the research will also examine representations in newspapers in Scotland from 1979 to the present.