Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
What conventions define the performance of “appropriate” emotions when patients seek to construct their illnesses as virtuous in online spaces? The ongoing fight in the U.S. to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from government efforts to repeal and replace the health insurance law provides myriad examples of how those who rely on the ACA’s provisions for life-saving care are grappling with this question.
One such example comes from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union that organizes around social justice issues. SEIU’s “Fight For Our Health” campaign circulates emotional illness narratives in person at protests and online through the campaign’s website in an effort to perform what I call “health insurance precarity.” These narratives articulate the uncertain conditions of living that patients must endure when they fear losing access to health insurance, and they situate the resolution of this precarity as an urgent, social obligation. But, notably, the campaign seems to differentiate between the emotions that are appropriate for organized protests—where anger and outrage are most prominent—and those appropriate for circulation in digital spaces—where pleas for equitable access to insurance are made with calm resolution and serene determination.
Why might the campaign make this differentiation? What role does mediation play? And what conditions could provoke the contravention of social rules defining which emotions are appropriate in digital spaces? This talk engages these questions in light of previous social movements’ uses of emotion, and considers how the repeal effort may change this kind of calculation.