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Repressive authenticity in the quest for legitimacy: Surveillance and the contested illness lawsuit


  • Phillips, Tarryn


When seeking compensation for workplace injury, workers predictably face examination over the legitimacy of their condition from employers and medical and legal professionals. When the alleged injury is a contested environmental illness, the suspicion aroused and the scrutiny faced by workers is much more acute. In this paper, I analyse the medico-legal experiences of eight chemically sensitive claimants in Australia to reveal the nature and extent of the surveillance they are subjected to in their quest to prove the legitimacy of their disease. Four forms of surveillance are identified: medical scrutiny; legal surveillance, insurer investigation, and self-regulation. Advancing the Foucauldian concept of self-surveillance, I demonstrate that this latter form of regulation has the most deleterious impact on the claimants. The result of this scrutiny is a ‘repressive authenticity’ (Wolfe, 1999), where the chemically sensitive are expected to adhere to a particular normative ideal of sickness, which becomes therapeutically counterproductive.

Suggested Citation

  • Phillips, Tarryn, 2012. "Repressive authenticity in the quest for legitimacy: Surveillance and the contested illness lawsuit," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(10), pages 1762-1768.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:10:p:1762-1768
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.07.026

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Trundle, Catherine, 2011. "Biopolitical endpoints: Diagnosing a deserving British nuclear test veteran," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(6), pages 882-888, September.
    2. Clarke, Juanne N. & James, Susan, 2003. "The radicalized self: the impact on the self of the contested nature of the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(8), pages 1387-1395, October.
    3. Glenton, Claire, 2003. "Chronic back pain sufferers--striving for the sick role," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(11), pages 2243-2252, December.
    4. Reid, Janice & Ewan, Christine & Lowy, Eva, 1991. "Pilgrimage of pain: The illness experiences of women with repetition strain injury and the search for credibility," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 601-612, January.
    5. Dumit, Joseph, 2006. "Illnesses you have to fight to get: Facts as forces in uncertain, emergent illnesses," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(3), pages 577-590, February.
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