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Youth living with chronicity in the digital age

A qualitative sociological study
An exciting opportunity for a commencing PhD student to join a dynamic team of sociologists to undertake qualitative research at the Sydney Centre for Health Societies at the School of Social and Political Sciences.

Despite considerable and enduring successes of modern medicine, chronic illness is a central feature of modern life in many OECD contexts. Considerable work has been done on chronic living among adults, yet few studies explore youth experiences, and moreover, how generational, technological and social shifts shape life with chronicity. This study will utilise innovative digital and mixed qualitative methods to explore undulations of chronicity at the intersection of digital life, generational change, and youth-specific concerns. It will extend scholarship in the sociology of health & illness, to map the interplay of global digital life, lived experiences of chronicity, and life course considerations. The supervisory team have an extensive research profile on researching experience of living with rather than surviving beyond disease, which is of core concern given the limitations of foci on disease eradication.

Living with chronic illness involves having everyday life shaped by enduring and emerging assumptions about ideas of productive citizenry, value, and legitimacy. One lives with permanent interruptions to ordinary life, often decentered by medical focus on curative narratives, and existing in a social field that produces ideas about self, credibility and worthiness to/for care. The Internet has fundamentally changed how people gather, understand and share medical information; allowing often private experiences to be shared publicly; and validating experiences of contested, misunderstood, or ‘embarrassing’ illnesses.

Through combined qualitative approaches consisting of textual and visual analyses and in-depth qualitative interviews, it will systematically document Australian youth engagement with the chronic illness community on social media. This will include exploring continuities and discontinuities across illnesses/diagnoses and trajectories, further recongnising that chronicity exists at precarious borders of formal diagnosis and invisible and/or ‘subjective’ symptoms.

The Chief Investigators will supervise are:  

  • Professor Alex Broom: Professor of Sociology, Director, Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies
  • Dr Katherine Kenny: ARC DECRA Fellow, Deputy Director, Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies

The successful candidate will be based in Sydney (Camperdown Campus).

This project aims to explore how younger generations experiencing chronic illness engage with and experience illness as a social occasion (not merely a medical problem), focusing on three questions:

  • What is ‘chronic living’ among Australian youth and how is it biographically situated?
  • How are forms of social media/digital fora utilised in the context of chronic living, for what purpose, and to what end?
  • How do new online mediations of illness, identity and chronic living shape experiences of illness and approaches to care?

This project will give the successful applicant an opportunity to build on a growing corpus of work, including those on identity and disorder; chronic living; shame and responsibility; and medicalisation and legitimacy. A novel qualitative approach will produce insights from those living with chronicity, and develop new conceptual approaches based on lived experiences of younger generations. These methods will probe the lifeworlds of participants, and contribute to views of chronic living that demonstrate individuals’ active engagement in the structure of their life, and ability to use chronic illness to understand, and shape, their identity.

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal for PhD research that aligns directly to this project.

Prospective candidates may qualify for direct entry into the PhD program if their research proposal (see above) is accepted and they satisfy at least one of the criteria listed below.

  • Bachelor's degree with first- or second-class honours in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on primary data not literature review
  • Master's degree by research in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis that draws on primary data
  • Master's degree by coursework, with a research thesis or dissertation of 12,000–15,000 words that draws on primary data not literature review, with a grade-point average of at least 80 per cent in the degree.
  • Demonstrated appropriate professional experience and alternative qualifications in the field of study.

For more information regarding applying for a PhD refer to the course details for Doctor of Philosophy (Arts and Social Sciences).

Please also refer to guidelines for preparing a research proposal.

A number of scholarships are available to support your studies.

These scholarships will provide a stipend allowance of $35,629 per annum for up to 3.5 years. Successful international students will also receive a tuition fee scholarship for up to 3.5 years.

For other scholarship opportunities refer to Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Research Scholarships (Domestic) or Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Research Scholarships (International).

For further details about the PhD project, contact Professor Alex Broom at

Professor Alex Broom

Director, Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies