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Constructing embodied identity in a 'new' ageing population: A qualitative study of the pioneer cohort of childhood liver transplant recipients in the UK

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Karen Lowton, Chris Hiley, Paul Higgs

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date11 Nov 2016
Accepted/In press10 Nov 2016
E-pub ahead of print11 Nov 2016


King's Authors


Medical innovations have created a future of survivorship for many groups of people with a variety of conditions that were previously untreatable or untreated. This has led not only to an expansion of medical activity in a whole variety of new areas but also to the emergence of new groups of individuals defined or defining themselves through their experiences, diagnosis and treatment. Through analysis of in-depth interviews with 27 of the now-adult survivors of the pioneer cohort of children receiving liver transplants in Britain in the early 1980s and 1990s, this paper presents how this group not only illustrate the capacities of modern medicine and healthcare to transform the survival prospects of a more diversified population, but also create new narratives of embodied identity. Specifically, we examine how childhood identities were shaped in three settings; home, hospital and school. At home, parents appeared to shape their child's identity through controlling tightly a daily medical regime focused on the concept of ‘body as machine’, celebrating their survival as a transplant recipient, yet at the same time socialising their child as a ‘normal’ child, albeit one who had a serious illness. The hospital appeared instrumental in shaping parents' focus on their child's body, and offered a way, through other patients with liver disease, for children to feel ‘normal’ in their difference. It was in school, through interaction with ‘healthy’ children and teachers, that corporeality and embodiment appeared most salient, and where social identity was negotiated and more often held in contention. Adult survivors of childhood liver transplant straddle the different discourses of normality and difference as their embodied experiences shape their narratives of identity and shed light on an underexplored aspect of the relationship between medicine and society.

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