Chronic illness as biographical contingency? Young people's experience of asthma

Lee F. Monaghan, Jonathan Gabe

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Much research on chronic illness, which views the experience as disruptive, is adult‐focused though there is an emerging literature on children's and young people's experiences. Drawing on 31 interviews conducted with young people diagnosed with asthma in south‐west Ireland, this article contributes to this literature. The sample includes boys (n = 15) and girls (n = 16) aged between 5 and 17 from the Irish Traveller community and the larger settled community. The study also explores the potential value of what might be called biographical contingency. This concept refers to the way in which a chronic illness may be an ‘only sometimes’ problem and takes account of the ‘now you see it, now you don't’ nature of a condition that varies in terms of its symptoms, meanings and consequences. In concluding, we consider the uses and limitations of this concept and the interpretivist paradigm that typically informs qualitative research on the illness experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1236–1253
Number of pages18
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number8
Early online date3 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


  • children; asthma; chronic illness; normalisation; stigma; inequality

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