Narrating Agency and Constructing Community: Commonalities and Tensions in Health Technology Narratives

Claire Black


Contemporary biological and digital health technologies disrupt people’s bodies and lives in various ways. One significant way in which people respond to this disruption is by narrating stories about their lives and how these technologies fit within them. This theme of storytelling appears repeatedly across ethnographic explorations of specific health technologies, yet there has been little exploration of the significance of how this plays out comparatively across different technologies. I draw upon ethnographic studies of three health technologies – cadaveric organ donation, commercial surrogacy, and self-tracking digital health technologies – to analyse some common threads of these ‘health technology narratives’. Narrative forms differ across the technologies and different groups of users, but these stories all position their subjects as agentive in the face of these challenges. However, when even seemingly empowering narratives become hegemonic within a community of users, this can also marginalise users of these technologies whose experiences do not conform.


health technologies, narratives, organ transplantation, surrogacy, quantified self

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