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The Woman Who Invented Herself. An interdisciplinary exploration of the construction of Elizabeth Kenny’s polio treatment discovery story.

Hildon, Allan (2019) The Woman Who Invented Herself. An interdisciplinary exploration of the construction of Elizabeth Kenny’s polio treatment discovery story. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Abstract

The story of Elizabeth Kenny’s discovery of a method of treating poliomyelitis is a legend which has outlived its creator and public knowledge of one of the most feared diseases of the twentieth century. Despite the absence of documentary or testimonial evidence, the story universally informs the historical, sociological, and cultural analysis of the global polio pandemic. To date, no systematic investigation has examined the origins of the story or considered its meaning and significance. This study explores the relationship between personal troubles and public issues, the reciprocity between the individual and society within an historical context, and the ability of a personal narrative to shape the production of knowledge. Using the lens of science biography, the study examines Kenny’s life to elicit an understanding of the origin and purpose of the treatment discovery story which she produced in the 1940s, whilst exploring the mutuality between her evolving personal myth and conceptualisation of her therapeutic system. The study also considers the role played by stigmatisation associated with her misandrist views and rejection of marriage in the medical profession’s rejection of her therapeutic techniques. This study considers Kenny’s discovery story as a problem-resolution personal experience narrative which embodies her experiences of social stigmatisation, her metaphorical understanding of polio, and her existential quest for an identity which would give meaning and purpose to her life. The findings also indicate that she was self-aware of the social stigma associated with her gender non-conformity. The findings of the study confirm the validity of the proposition that the narratives through which we identify ourselves with others are inextricably linked to public achievements.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Allan Hildon
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2019 15:21
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 15:21
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/24922

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