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Digesting Stigma: Exploring the Illness Experience of New Zealanders with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (‘It’s just shitty’)

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posted on 2021-11-23, 14:11 authored by Cunningham-Pow, Bryony

This thesis is an anthropological exploration of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and the first ethnographic study of people with IBS in New Zealand. It explores the illness experience of people with IBS and whether stigma plays a role within this experience. IBS is a gastrointestinal illness that affects 10-20% of New Zealand’s population. However, its aetiology is unknown, there is no cure, and the biomedical approach that informs its diagnosis and treatment is often incongruous with its lived experience. I posit that the illness experience of my participants and what is stigmatising for them must be understood not only in relation to its physical manifestations but also in relation to the biomedical and neoliberal influences that inform social expectations of the body and social participation. Further, participants experience their IBS simultaneously resisting and participating within these influences to make sense of and manage their illness in a way that aligns with their lived experiences.  All work within this thesis is my own except where otherwise stated.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Cultural Anthropology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Bennett, Caroline; Sheoran Appleton, Nayantara