Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 9 Issue 4 (July/August 1999), Pages 247-319

Social representations of health and illness: the case of the Chinese community in England (pages 247-260)


This paper reports results from a qualitative study on social representations of health and illness among the Chinese community in England. It is assumed that representations of health and illness are grounded in cultural frameworks and are constructed through communication, social interaction and the practices of daily life. Our findings show that in spite of differences related to age and degrees of acculturation, Chinese people in England share a common representational system with respect to health and illness. This system is based on the traditional notions of “balance” and “harmony” between the interdependent forces of Yin and Yang. Health results from balance, whereas illness is brought about by disequilibrium. It is through these traditional Chinese concepts that Western biomedical knowledge is incorporated, producing a mixed representational field where Chinese and Western knowledge co‐exist. This representational field is transmitted through the most fundamental dimensions of culture: food, language and kinship relations. We conclude by showing that social representations of health and illness are inseparable from the struggles over identity experienced by the Chinese people in England. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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