Saying the word: Voice and silence in an autoethnography about chronic illness

Rose Richards


People living with chronic illness experience impairment in various ways, not the least of which is how they are sometimes marginalised by the people with whom they interact. Over the last few decades, as social science research has moved away from the biomedical model, research methodologies have been developed to allow the voices of people with illness or disabilities to be heard and not only to be represented by others. However, these methodologies may not go as far in redressing power imbalances as was hoped, and participants’ voices are often still mediated and subjugated to the researcher’s requirements. As a person who has lived with a chronic condition all my life, I am concerned about how I am heard and by whom, as this has often affected my self-perception and sometimes even my safety. I am also concerned about doing violence to those about whom I speak and disempowering them further. My doctoral research concerned the problematic of writing about my own experience of a chronic illness. I chose a methodology, autoethnography, that allowed me to write solely about my own experience. In so doing, I was able to consider the complexity of my own academic and narrative voices, individually and in combination. In this paper I explore the methodological and epistemological concerns around my decision to use autoethnography, as well as the sometimes surprising issues I navigated when doing so. One of these issues was the juxtapositioning of different types of texts I had written. In isolation, some of the texts show a clear influence of the very discourses to which I was trying to provide counter-narratives. When read together with other texts, they reveal a complex web of paradoxes, tensions, and silences, which allowed me to generate new narratives and to question assumptions – my own and other people’s.


autoethnography, chronic illness, illness narrative, silence, voice

Full Text:




  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Powered by OJS and hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2011.


This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.

SUNJournals Help