Words for ills : diagnostic theories
and health problems
The respondent reporting on health problems collected in 1999 by the French national survey “Handicaps-Incapacités-Dépendance” [Disabilities-infirmity-dependence] provides access to a multitude of ways of presenting health disorders. Textual analysis of this material shows that self-reports vary by social background, illustrating Luc Boltanski’s notion of somatic culture. However, it is possible to go beyond this observation and show that ways of presenting health problems are also and indissociably ways of understanding disease—what we call here “diagnostic theories.” Drawing on the examples of mental illness and Alzheimer-type disorders, the article shows the relevance of taking into account other factors, particularly the social and moral construction of pathologies, the treatment configurations specific to each French medical-social sector, but also family configuration, as the issues involved in modes of organizing daily life vary according to those configurations.
Key Words. HEALTH – DISABILITY – DEPENDENCE – FAMILY – STATISTICAL ANALYSIS OF TEXT – ETHNOGRAPHY