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Frailty as biographical disruption

Cluley, V., Martin, G., Radnor, Z. ORCID: 0000-0002-1624-5729 & Banerjee, J. (2021). Frailty as biographical disruption. Sociology of Health and Illness: a journal of medical sociology, 43(4), pp. 948-965. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.13269


Biographical disruption positions the onset of chronic illness as a major life disruption in which changes to body, self and resources occur (Bury 1982). The concept has been used widely in 15 medical sociology. It has also been subject to critique and development by numerous scholars. In this paper, we build on recent developments of the concept, particularly those taking a phenomenological approach, to argue that it can also help in understanding other disruptive health-related experiences across the lifecourse, in this case the onset of frailty. We draw on the findings of 30 situated interviews with frail older people, relating their experiences of frailty to the concept of biographical disruption. We show that frailty shares many similarities with the experience of chronic illness. Using the lens of biographical disruption to understand frailty also offers insights relevant to recent debates around both concepts, and on the continued relevance of the idea of biographical disruption given changing experiences of health and illness, including the circumstances in which biographical disruption is more and less likely to be experienced. Finally, we reflect on the potentials and limitations of applying the concept to a health-related condition that cannot be categorised as a disease.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Radnor, Z. , Cluley, V., Graham, M. and Banerjee, J. (2021). Frailty as biographical disruption. Sociology of Health and Illness: a journal of medical sociology, which is published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Publisher Keywords: biographical disruption, frailty, embodiment, ageing, old age, qualitative, UK
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Departments: Bayes Business School
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