Regimes of Patienthood: Developing an Intersectional Concept to Theorize Illness Experiences

  • Kelly Ann Joyce Drexel University
  • Jennifer E. James University of California, San Francisco
  • Melanie Jeske University of California, San Francisco
Keywords: patienthood, medicine, illness, intersectionality


In this paper, we develop the concept regimes of patienthood. Regimes of patienthood highlights the micro and macro dimensions of illness, paying close attention to how the interplay between the two creates expectations and points of intervention for people when they are ill. Such expectations may vary across time, place, and social position (e.g., age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality). Regimes of patienthood are always regimes of power and resistance, where the forms of resistance may vary based on individuals’ intersectional positions. We draw on two cases—a study of 45 mostly white, middle class adults living with autoimmune illnesses and a study of 20 Black women living with advanced cancer—to examine one dimension of regimes of patienthood—control. Although a number of social positions, such as age and race, co-produce illness experiences, we focus on three—class, insurance status, and gender—that are particularly salient in our data in relation to control. Such a move illustrates the theoretical power of regimes of patienthood for science and technology studies (STS).

Author Biographies

Kelly Ann Joyce, Drexel University

Kelly Joyce is a Professor of Sociology and the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Drexel University. As a sociologist of science, medicine and technology, she investigates the social, political, and ethical dimensions of knowledge systems and expertise.

Jennifer E. James, University of California, San Francisco

Jennifer E. James is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Institute for Health and Aging, and Bioethics at the University of California, San Francisco. She is a sociologist and Black Feminist scholar whose work lies at the intersection of race, gender, and health, focusing on the lived experience of chronic and potentially life-limiting illnesses.

Melanie Jeske, University of California, San Francisco

Melanie Jeske is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research examines the social, ethical, and political dimensions of emerging biomedical technologies, as well as the social structures that shape illness experience.


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14 Mar 2020
Considering Concepts