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Masculinities, social capital and men’s experiences of chronic ill health

Griffiths, John Edward (2015) Masculinities, social capital and men’s experiences of chronic ill health. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis draws on theoretical and empirical research on men and masculinities, and on social capital to inform understanding of the experiences of chronically ill men. Levels of chronic illness are increasing in the Western Global North, and this phenomenon has been linked with health-related behaviour (Crossley, 2000a). A growing literature has explored the ways that people experience chronic illness and the implications of that for their health and wellbeing (e.g. Williams, 2000; Bray et al, 2014). There is a need however for further research that seeks a gendered understanding of men’s experiences of chronic illness within a context of social relatedness. Connell’s (e.g. 1995) theoretical description of hegemonic masculinities set within the ‘gender order’ has stimulated much research that moves beyond a simplistic understanding of gender that often characterises work in Health Psychology. Similarly social capital has become widely used to conceptualise aspects of social connectedness and it’s links with health and illness (e.g. Hu et al, 2014). A qualitative, narrative approach has been employed here to explore the experiences of chronically ill men. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty five men to investigate the processes linking social capital, masculinities and experiences of chronic illness. A multi-level narrative analysis (e.g. Murray, 2000) was conducted on the resulting interview transcripts, and both case study and cross-case studies are presented in the thesis. The thesis demonstrates the value of a multi-level analysis (Murray, 2000) that incorporates the examination of personal, interpersonal, positional and ideological facets of men’s illness narratives. Key findings concerned the contestation of meanings of illness in men’s social networks, the gendered context to family conflicts related to illness, and the complexities of reciprocal care and support amongst families over time. Issues around employment and the workplace such as stress, and the negotiation of accommodations in masculinist workplace contexts are also explored. These findings point to the complexity and importance of interdependence and masculine identities, and their links with chronic illness experience. The association of social capital with entirely positive or negative outcomes or experiences amongst chronically ill men oversimplifies the diverse and context specific processes involved. A gender-sensitive approach to family systems and broader social connectedness with community and work contexts however can aid in understanding how the experiences of chronically ill men are shaped. The importance of theories and interventions that do not rest on models of unconstrained individual choice is particularly highlighted. Such work may be useful to health practitioners and in contributing to public discourse around chronically ill men.

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