Identity and Illness

Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Over the last several decades, sociological interest in and research on the relationship between illness and identity has flourished. Unlike disease, which refers primarily to physical pathology, illness generally refers to lived experience (Kleinman et al. 1978). The foci of this research have been two-fold: an examination of the public self (an individual’s identity as perceived by others) and the private self (an individual’s identity as perceived by oneself) and how the two interact with and affect each other (Kelly and Millward 2004). Yet, the commonality among the majority of studies focusing on illness and identity is that researchers have usually treated identity as a function of illness – that is, how one’s identity forms or changes as a result of contracting a particular disease or condition. This approach has been represented most successfully by those sociologists who view illness as an identity disruption (e.g., see Charmaz 1993; Karp 1996) and those interested in the relationship among identity, stigma, and illness (e.g., see Link 1987; Link et al. 1991). Recent studies have focused on how individuals strive to maintain their sense of self in spite of illness. Hinojosa et al. (2008), for example, find that veterans who had suffered a stroke were able to maintain a continuous sense of self by drawing upon their religious beliefs and cultural expectations of aging. Likewise, Sanders et al. (2002) find that while people with osteoarthritis do talk about the disruptive effects of the condition on their daily lives, they still manage to view these symptoms as part of their normal lives.


Mental Illness Social Role Identity Theory Illness Experience Role Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


The authors would like to thank Brian Powell, Sean Smith, and Michael Yacavone for their assistance and support throughout this project. This draft was supported, in part, by the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth College and the Faculty Grants Committee at Millersville University.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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