- ‘We are the canary in a coal mine’: establishing a disease category and a new health risk
- Health, Risk & Society
- Volume | Issue number
- 14 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
This paper analyses the process of establishing a risk object - electromagnetic fields. This example will be used to examine risk categorisation as such, and to explore how individual and collective attempts to establish a new risk interact with health policy. We studied people who claim to suffer from electro-hypersensitivity. We conducted participant observation and repeated interviews with 18 electro-hypersensitivity sufferers, and interviewed representatives of ‘patient’ organisations and health policy-makers in the Netherlands. In their attempts to trace particular outcomes (electro-hypersensitivity) to a specific risk factor (electromagnetic fields), we observed electro-hypersensitivity sufferers assembling complaints and complainants into a single illness category, distinguishing ‘real’ from ‘fake’ cases, and turning to measurement and experiments in order to show that others are at risk. Although electro-hypersensitivity sufferers mimic scientific practices, they have thus far failed to have their illness recognised. To non-sufferers, electro-hypersensitivity remains a psychosomatic condition. This position entails a dual failure for electro-hypersensitivity sufferers - they suffer from medically unexplained symptoms while identifying with a politically and medically unrecognised label. This very failure, however, provides perceived legitimacy for political activism. Although those who categorise themselves as having electro-hypersensitivity have failed to establish electromagnetic fields as a risk, their suffering is increasingly recognised. This partial recognition, we argue, is an attempt to depoliticise the issue.
- go to publisher's site
If you believe that digital publication of certain material infringes any of your rights or (privacy) interests, please let the Library know, stating your reasons. In case of a legitimate complaint, the Library will make the material inaccessible and/or remove it from the website. Please Ask the Library, or send a letter to: Library of the University of Amsterdam, Secretariat, Singel 425, 1012 WP Amsterdam, The Netherlands. You will be contacted as soon as possible.