Medical Anthropology Quarterly

Metaphors in Disrupted Lives: Infertility and Cultural Constructions of Continuity


  • Gay Becker

    Corresponding author
    1. Medical Anthropology Program and Social and Behavioral Sciences University of California, San Francisco
      Box 0646, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0646.
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Box 0646, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0646.


This article addresses disruption to the lives of women and men in the United States following the discovery of infertility and subsequent efforts to create a sense of continuity by 236 women and men who experienced infertility and underwent medical treatment. The cultural life course and its root metaphors provided the context in which cultural constructions of continuity were understood. People drew on metaphors such as order and chaos, limbo, life and death, rebirth, and transformation in efforts to make sense of disruption. Successive phases of disruption, characterized as periods of chaos and limbo, were followed by efforts to create a new sense of order and continuity. It is suggested that a cultural model of continuity shapes responses to disruption and that metaphor mediates the process through which a sense of continuity is sought. As a cultural resource, metaphor is a mediator of disruption that enables people to recreate a sense of continuity and to reconnect themselves to the social and cultural order after a disruption. The effort to create continuity after a disruption emerges as a complex cultural process.