Personal Responsibility, Personal Shame A Discourse Tracing of Individualism about Healthcare Costs

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Charee M. Thompson
Christopher M. Duerringer
Lynsey K. Romo
Shana Makos


America’s individualistic culture is reflected in deeply held beliefs about how people should manage their health and their (lack of) money. In this essay, we trace the ideological discourse of individualism at macro and micro levels, explicating how macro-level discourses surrounding finances and health fulfill key functions of individualism: explanatory and evaluative as well as identity and prescriptive. For each function, we illustrate at the micro level how social adherence to discourses of individualism affects people, relationships, and communities. In particular, we argue, failure to live up to individualistic ideals fosters internalized shame and guilt and worsens mental, physical, and financial health. Grounded in critical rhetorical theory and drawing upon critical interpersonal and family communication and health communication approaches, we illustrate how individualistic discourse is circulated and taken up by people, constituting their identities and relationships. We also showcase the benefits of investigating exigent social issues from multidisciplinary vantage points.

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