Staying Positive: Women's illness narratives and the stigmatized vernacular

S. Bock


This article uses the stigmatized vernacular (Goldstein & Shuman, 2012) as a conceptual framework for examining the public construction and reception of women’s illness narratives. I begin by making the case that personal illness narratives – a genre that works to translate the subjective illness experience to a public audience – are rich sites for exploring how discourses of veneration and repudiation can become inextricably intertwined.  Discussing illustrative examples of the construction and reception of women’s illness narratives shared in contexts of breast cancer and fibromyalgia, I show how popular understandings of emotions, particularly positive emotions like happiness, play a major role in the regimes of value shaping how women’s illness experiences become tellable or untellable, and thereby valued or devalued.  Integrating scholarship on illness narratives, stigma, and happiness, I aim to contribute to a richer and more multifaceted view of the illness narrative genre and the discursive contagion of stigma.


illness narrative; emotion; breast cancer; fibromyalgia; stigmatized vernacular

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