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Biosocieties. 2012 Sep;7(3):273-293. Epub 2012 Sep 3.

Holding blame at bay? 'Gene talk' in family members' accounts of schizophrenia aetiology.

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1
Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University , House 4, Trevelyan College, Elvet Hill Road, Durham, DH1 3LN, UK.

Abstract

We provide the first detailed analysis of how, for what purposes and with what consequences people related to someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia use 'gene talk'. The article analyses findings from a qualitative interview study conducted in London and involving 19 participants (mostly women). We transcribed the interviews verbatim and analysed them using grounded theory methods. We analyse how and for what purposes participants mobilized 'gene talk' in their affectively freighted encounter with an unknown interviewer. Gene talk served to (re)position blame and guilt, and was simultaneously used imaginatively to forge family history narratives. Family members used 'gene talk' to recruit forebears with no psychiatric diagnosis into a family history of mental illness, and presented the origins of the diagnosed family member's schizophrenia as lying temporally before, and hence beyond the agency of the immediate family. Gene talk was also used in attempts to dislodge the distressing figure of the schizophrenia-inducing mother. 'Gene talk', however, ultimately displaced, rather than resolved, the (self-)blame of many family members, particularly mothers. Our article challenges the commonly expressed view that genetic accounts will absolve family members' sense of (self-)blame in relation to their relative's/relatives' diagnosis.

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