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Structures of Resentment: On Feeling—and Being—Left Behind by Health Care Reform

By Jessica M. Mulligan, Emily K. Brunson

Cite As:
Mulligan, Jessica, and Emily Brunson. 2020. “Structures of Resentment: On Feeling—and Being—Left Behind by Health Care Reform”. Cultural Anthropology 35 (2):317–343.


Described by many as an emotional state rooted in having been treated unfairly, resentment has surged over the past decade. Resentment politics troubled the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, 2010) in the United States. While some people gained access to health insurance through the ACA, others experienced continued exclusion from affordable coverage. Drawing on ethnographic interviews with poor whites from Florida, Rhode Island, and Texas, we show how uninsured individuals talked about and experienced resentment through contradictory tropes of “us versus them,” deservingness, and personal responsibility. We argue that policies based in resentment, occurring on both national and state levels, structured these individuals’ experiences and amplified their resentment sentiments. Through this case study we argue that resentment is more than an emotion: it is also a force that structures policies and their implementation. Resentment policies in turn create the social, political, and economic circumstances that generate resentment feelings.


resentment; ressentiment; Affordable Care Act; Obamacare; health care reform; policy