Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Women's Studies and Feminist Research


Polzer, Jessica


This study critically examines how discourses of breast cancer survivorship are constructed within professional and popular fields of knowledge production. In this thesis, I used critical discourse analysis (CDA) methods informed by Foucauldian, feminist, and queer theoretical perspectives to analyze a sample of texts, published in the Springer Journal of Cancer Survivorship and by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, in order to elucidate a complex understanding of how discourses of breast cancer survivorship effectively privilege and exclude particular forms of subjectivity and temporal trajectories. I argue that these discourses of breast cancer survivorship operate as neoliberal technologies of governance that invoke particular constructions of responsible and healthy citizenship, gender, and the future in order to direct the capacities and conduct of women affected by the disease, and the population at large, towards normative ideals. The specific forms of subjectivity constructed in these discursive fields include the Chronic Survivor; the Resilient, Fit Survivor; the Decliner; the Universal Woman At-Risk; the Child At-Risk. This theoretically-informed, empirically-grounded CDA suggests that the forms of subjectivity idealized in these discursive fields charge post-treatment women with the duty to ‘survive well,’ cultivating particular forms of bodily and civic fitness that reinforce individualized notions of responsibility for health, dampen women’s resistive potential, and encourage complicity with traditional forms of femininity and gendered responsibilities. The findings of this study further highlight how the temporal and affective dimensions of survivorship discourses operate to orient and mobilize survivor subjects towards a future secured by biomedicine in ways that align with the aims of neoliberalism and the biopolitical imperative to optimize life. Ultimately, I argue that breast cancer survivorship discourses govern post-treatment women, and the population at large, by assuming and inciting anticipatory temporal trajectories and modes of conduct that are characterized by a moral imperative to live and think towards the (reproductive) future. These findings raise pressing concerns about how breast cancer survivorship discourses, and the forms of subjectivity it inspires, are informed by neoliberal political rationalities, heteronormative and ageist assumptions, and contemporary anxieties about women’s social and political roles, and are thus implicated in the reproduction of gender, sexual, and citizenship norms.