'I've used the word cancer but it's actually good news': discursive performativity of cancer and the identity of urological cancer services

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Drawing on the ethnographic study of urological cancer services, this article explores how a set of particular discourses embedded in the everyday clinical work in a large teaching hospital in the UK helps materialise particular configurations of cancer and related professional identities. Emerging on the intersection of specific socio-material arrangements (cancer survival rates, treatment regimens, cancer staging classifications, metaphors, clinical specialities) and operating across a number of differential relations (curable/incurable, treatable/untreatable, aggressive/nonaggressive), these configurations help constitute the categories of 'good' and 'bad' cancers as separate and contrasting entities. These categories help materialise particular distributions of power and are thus implicated in the making of specific claims about the identity of urological cancer services as unique and privileged. Exploring these issues in view of feminist and material-semiotic approaches to studying science, technology and medicine, this article seeks to move away from the understanding of cancer discourses as primarily linguistic performances, proposing to see them instead as arrangements of practices and relations simultaneously material and semiotic through which particular categories, entities and phenomena acquire their determinate nature. In doing so, it seeks to contribute to sociology's broader concern with discursive performativity of cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-354
Number of pages15
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015



  • discourse
  • performativity
  • professional identity
  • urological cancer services
  • material semiotics

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