Repressive authenticity in the quest for legitimacy: Surveillance and the contested illness lawsuit Academic Article uri icon


  • When seeking compensation for workplace injury, workers predictably face examination over the legitimacy of their condition from employers and medical and legal professionals. When the alleged injury is a contested environmental illness, the suspicion aroused and the scrutiny faced by workers is much more acute. In this paper, I analyse the medico-legal experiences of eight chemically sensitive claimants in Australia to reveal the nature and extent of the surveillance they are subjected to in their quest to prove the legitimacy of their disease. Four forms of surveillance are identified: medical scrutiny; legal surveillance, insurer investigation, and self-regulation. Advancing the Foucauldian concept of self-surveillance, I demonstrate that this latter form of regulation has the most deleterious impact on the claimants. The result of this scrutiny is a 'repressive authenticity' (Wolfe, 1999), where the chemically sensitive are expected to adhere to a particular normative ideal of sickness, which becomes therapeutically counterproductive.

publication date

  • November 2012