Social Theory & Health

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 206–222 | Cite as

Taking story seriously

  • Hannah Bradby
Original Article


In narrative approaches to health and illness, a distinction between narrative and story has been lost or occluded. This paper considers how the terms narrative and story are defined and how they are used in practice in order to focus on rehearsed or ‘worked up’ stories, including fiction, rather than minimally defined narrative fragments. Story – written, spoken and shared – is a powerful way of contextualising health and illness in a wider landscape of human values and interests and, as a form of enchantment in the face of scientific rationalisation, a human necessity. Some reasons why sociology, and particularly medical sociology, has avoided defining fictional stories as part of its material and its method are explored. The reasons why a sociology of health, illness and medicine might want to include fictionalised story are sketched. Complex moments of human experience, including sick physicians’ experience of alienation from both themselves and their medical treatment, necessitate metaphor-laden and sometimes fictionalised writing to represent the subjective contradictions. Story, including fictionalised story, represents a means of including imaginative elements of human life in sociological view.


story enchantment narrative literature illness health 



This paper is based on work that started with a course convened at the University of Warwick with the encouragement of Professor Mike Neary. Student-published books arising from this teaching can be seen here:, and copies obtained from

Contributing to the paper’s development were comments from anonymous referees and members of the Welfare and Lifecourse Research Group, Sociology Department, Uppsala University that are gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden

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