Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: In lives affected by chronic illness, disease, and impairment in today’s constantly changing society, precarity is a characteristic not only of bodily health but of daily life and social interaction. Being at the receiving end of clinical treatments, social programs, and community services can exacerbate precarity faced by the chronically ill and impaired as shifting layers of social policy come into conflict, requiring monumental efforts to engage in the simplest aspects of daily living. Das and Randeria (2015), drawing from Bourdieu (2000), characterize precarity as stretching beyond material scarcity to include symbolic struggles against stigmatization and exclusion that lead to barely perceptible forms of social marginalization. Berlant’s (2011) notion of “cruel optimism” is also inherent in the precarity of chronic conditions, wherein individuals comply with intricate requirements for self-management to show they have the capacity to achieve and are thus deserving of help toward attaining the ultimate goal of a “good life.” Forms of precarity impacting both individuals and households (Agbo et al, forthcoming) affected by chronic conditions range from the constant threat of homelessness or job loss to threats of child removal due to failure to complete the correct paperwork or appointment schedule. Papers on this panel explore how seemingly mundane aspects of daily living such as paperwork, bills, and appointments become benchmarks of participation in lives deemed sober, rehabilitated, and successful. Authors consider a range of chronic illnesses and impairments, from life and death struggles to maintain supportive relationships while bedridden, housebound, or neurocognitively challenged, to fundamental disruptions to individuals’ sense of self and social identity. Rather than focusing on the management of illness itself, these authors describe social, legal, and intrapersonal pieces of daily existence that threaten to fall through the cracks in lives overshadowed by the constant work of managing chronic illness, disease, and impairment.