Vulnerable lives, illness and embedded agency

This interdisciplinary study explores the possibilities, conditions and limitations of human agency in vulnerable situations of illness. During recent decades the ideas of individual choice, autonomy and consumerism have expanded into an ethos that shapes contemporary health care services. Our study challenges these suppositions. It focuses on the analysis of agency in the constrained context of long-lasting illness, specifically heart disease, depression and addiction, which cause a great deal of suffering in contemporary Finland.

Theoretically, the project draws from sociological and anthropological discussions on social suffering, relationality, actor-network theory and governmentality studies that each problematize the abstract and free-floating notion of agency still promoted in most social theories of action. The project offers an empirically-grounded alternative perspective of ‘embedded agency’ that grasps action as placed in the real-life context of contemporary lives, social relations and social structures. The study will examine the various modes of embeddedness and elaborate how agency in vulnerable life situations is shaped by contemporary practices of care and the growing social inequalities of health.  Two post-doc scholars are working in this projects; one with elderly home care and the role of carers, the other subproject is about long-term drug use centers.

The project is a joint project with the University of Helsinki (where Honkasalo, the project leader, has her Docentship), funded by the Academy of Finland (2012- 2016).




Professor Marja-Liisa Honkasalo
University of Turku
D.Soc.Sc. Kaisa Ketokivi
University of Helsinki

D.Soc.Sc. Anna Leppo
University of Helsinki