Managing biomedical uncertainty: the technoscientific illness identity


Address for correspondence: Gayle A. Sulik, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Texas Woman’s University, PO Box 425887, Denton, Texas 76204, United States


This paper analyses how the biomedical uncertainty of breast cancer contributes to the development of a new type of illness identity that is grounded in biomedical knowledge, advanced technology, and biomedical health and risk surveillance. The technoscientific identity (TSI) develops through the application of sciences and technologies to one’s sense of self. Analysing narrative data from 60 in-depth interviews with women diagnosed with breast cancer, this research demonstrates how women diagnosed with breast cancer develop and maintain TSIs through four processes: (1) immersion in professional biomedical knowledge, (2) locating themselves within a technoscientific framework, (3) receiving support for the emerging TSI from the medical system and support networks, and (4) eventually prioritising their biomedical classifications over their suffering. Developing a TSI enables people to make sense of biomedical information, make decisions, and manage medical processes and relationships in the face of biomedical and personal uncertainty even as it extends the reach of technoscience and biomedicalisation.