Epidemiological reports from around the world suggest that more people than ever before are living with (especially chronic) diseases. As a consequence, sustained efforts to reduce morbidity and mortality rates have been joined by systematised efforts to improve the lives – the quality of life – of those living with disease in ways that are measurable and auditable. The VITAL project will empirically investigate and analyse the making of ‘quality of life’.
While social studies of medicine have of late been marked by a ‘bio-turn’, it is apparent that within contemporary medicine, life is envisaged as much more than cellular and molecular activity; it is also a social activity and a personal experience. Not only is life sustained, it is also lived. In recent decades, morbid living – living with disease – has come to be the object of novel forms of knowledge, expertise, measurement and management while also generating new medical practices and attendant ways of relating to oneself.
VITAL will shift attention away from the ways in which the social sciences have previously studied morbid living and related issues of quality of life. Rather than continue longstanding efforts to understand how people come to terms and cope with disease or to refine definitions and instruments for measuring the quality of life of the sick, in VITAL we will empirically study the coproduction of ‘quality of life’ within healthcare through four ethnographically-grounded studies of how ‘quality of life’ is assembled, mobilised, negotiated and practiced in concrete medical settings. VITAL studies will focus on how knowledge about living with disease is assembled and mobilised, on the one hand, and how morbid living is negotiated and practiced on the other.