My current dissertation research examines how political context and health care setting shape beliefs about personal responsibility for chronic ‘lifestyle’ diseases and how these beliefs in turn influence the lived experiences of patients suffering from chronic disease. More specifically, I explore how conceptions of personal responsibility for health reconstruct structural health inequalities as individual failures and compound pre-existing stigmas among poor populations of color that face the greatest social obstacles to good health. The project also investigates the degree to which the increasingly pervasive ‘personal responsibility paradigm’ has been adopted or resisted in community health centers, a unique type of health care organization that has historically recognized the significance of social determinants of health.
In the study of health and illness, the humanities are especially important because they help us move beyond purely biomedical understandings of health. Beliefs about disease etiology, for example, have never been rooted only in biology, but instead reflect political, cultural, and moral ideologies of a given time and place. The humanities help locate health within a broader context and therefore deepen our understandings of health and illness as a social phenomenon with social consequences. The humanities also redirect attention to the human experience of health and shed light on the ways that disease is subjectively understood and experienced by individuals.
I am very much looking forward to participating in the Humanities Center Resident Fellowship Program this upcoming year. My dissertation research sits at the intersection of multiple fields beyond sociology, and I have drawn on works from history, political science, public health, and philosophy to frame my project. My survey of these fields to date has however been necessarily cursory, and I am looking forward to engaging with fellows from other disciplines to deepen my understandings and further inform my work.
Rachael Lee is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology Department. Her primary areas of study are medical sociology and public health. Her dissertation research explores how neoliberal ideas surrounding personal responsibility for well-being have bled out of the political-economic sphere and into health care and cultural perceptions of health. More specifically, her research explores how conceptions of personal responsibility for chronic ‘lifestyle’ diseases contribute to moral understandings of sickness and pre-existing stigmas among disadvantaged populations experiencing socially structured health inequalities. Before coming to Northeastern, Rachael received a M.A. in Sociology from East Carolina University in North Carolina and a B.A. in Sociology and Applied Social Relations from Eastern Connecticut State University.