This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

"People Choose Wi-Fi Over Your Existence:" The Management of Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity




Gernert, Rory

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work


As sources of anthropogenic electromagnetic fields (EMFs) proliferate in the environment, the population of people living with electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is growing. Yet sociologists have only recently begun to examine this topic. In order to explore the lived experiences of EHS, the strategies people with EHS use to manage everyday life, and the potential origins of the stigma associated with this illness, I conducted interviews and participant observation in a rural county in which a community of EHS sufferers reside. The use of a grounded theory approach illuminated the immense challenges people with EHS face as they attempt to survive in a society driven by the technologies that make them physically ill. EHS sufferers were barred from participation in everyday life due to the ubiquity of EMFs and reported experiencing stigmatization from others who disbelieved their physical illness, phenomena which resulted in the loss of economic and social resources. To preserve or gain access to these resources, EHS sufferers endeavored to prove the legitimacy of their illness to others through a diversity of strategies. In addition, EHS sufferers had to contend with the physical management of EMFs, and a number of approaches to this challenge were identified and described. Finally, this study undertakes a theoretical exploration of the possible origins of the stigma associated with EHS.