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Contextualising Accounts of Illness: Notions of Responsibility and Blame in White and South Asian Respondents' Accounts of Diabetes Causation

John Wiley
Publication Date
  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • Medicine


We undertook a secondary analysis of in-depth interviews with white (n = 32) and Pakistani and Indian (n = 32) respondents who had type 2 diabetes, which explored their perceptions and understandings of disease causation. We observed subtle, but important, differences in the ways in which these respondent groups attributed responsibility and blame for developing the disease. Whereas Pakistani and Indian respondents tended to externalise responsibility, highlighting their life circumstances in general and/or their experiences of migrating to Britain in accounting for their diabetes (or the behaviours they saw as giving rise to it), white respondents, by contrast, tended to emphasise the role of their own lifestyle 'choices' and 'personal failings'. In seeking to understand these differences, we argue for a conceptual and analytical approach which embraces both micro- (i.e. everyday) and macro- (i.e. cultural) contextual factors and experiences. In so doing, we provide a critique of social scientific studies of lay accounts/understandings of health and illness. We suggest that greater attention needs to be paid to the research encounter (that is, to who is looking at whom and in what circumstances) to understand the different kinds of contexts researchers have highlighted in presenting and interpreting their data.

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