Research Project

Research Project

Counter-Narratives of Cancer: Shaping Narrative Agency examines different ways of narrativizing cancer. We analyse culturally dominant cancer narratives and counter-narratives that challenge them. The research data consists of literary fiction, life-writing, media texts, and texts produced in bibliotherapeutic groups and narrative agency workshops.

We reconceptualize cancer in terms of the idea of illness as an unforeseen ability that allows confronting the randomness and connectedness of life. The project enhances public awareness of different ways of narrating cancer and participates in creating more capacious cancer imaginaries that open up new possibilities of agency.

Project themes

1) Master and counter narratives of cancer. We analyse dominant and alternative ways of narrating cancer in contemporary media, social media, life-writing, and literary fiction. We address the role of narratives in shaping conceptions of illness and the particular challenges that cancer presents for narrative sense-making.

2) Cancer patient’s grief and the grief of the dying. We develop new ways of understanding and expressing the experience of grief and grieving in the context of cancer. Until now, grief of the dying has hardly been researched. In this project explicating the facets of the grief of the dying makes it possible to widen our understanding of how grief accompanies those ill with cancer, molding the narratives of the self while both facilitating and breaking ties with others.

3) A new model of bibliotherapy and narrative agency workshops. We run pilot groups for cancer patients and medical professionals at the cancer clinics of the University Hospitals of Turku and Helsinki. These groups that focus on creative reading and writing encourage the participants to engage critically with narrow and normative conceptions of health and illness. We study the potential of such bibliotherapy to strengthen the participants’ narrative agency – the ability to navigate narrative environments in critical and creative ways.

4) Narrative agency analysis as a new qualitative method. Drawing on our conceptualization of narrative agency, we develop a new qualitative method called narrative agency analysis, which we use in analysing counter-narratives of cancer in relation to the three dimensions of narrative agency: narrative awareness, narrative imagination and narrative dialogicality.

5) The Archive of Loss. Joutseno/Swan and Meretoja produce and compile a dialogic archive of life-writing, creative writing and music. The archive examines experiences of cancer via artistic means. At the heart of the project are the shared and separate experiences of cancer, peer experiences or “the cancer sisterhood”, and the related and inevident losses.