Pain in the medical humanities: A special edition collection

Pain in the medical humanities: A special edition collection.

Edited by Ben Kasstan with Angela Woods; Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University.

Image credit: Mary Rouncefield, Wellcome Trust Images.  Pills, artwork

Image credit: Mary Rouncefield, Wellcome Trust Images.
Pills, artwork

Following our call for contributions, we are pleased to present a special edition collection on pain as a field of enquiry in the medical humanities.

Our international and interdisciplinary contributors have generously shared their understandings of pain, encouraging us to question basic assumptions of what it means to live with pain and initiating timely discussions on how pain can be theorised, contextualised and represented.

The wider community of practitioners, researchers and experts of ‘lived experience’ who gravitate around the medical humanities are invited to retort and respond, engage and enquire, play and provoke.

Opening the collection is an exploration of ideas, objectivity and privilege in conceptualisations of pain by Daniel Goldberg, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (USA). Here, he asks the discerning question of whose pain is (not) heard and under what conditions. This is followed by an analysis of representations of pain and its chronic experience by Leigh Rooney (Durham University), as well as a renewed focus on the history of pain and pain management – including a call for collaboration – by Ayesha Nathoo (University of Exeter).

The collection then showcases discussions that emerged from February’s successful seminar entitled ‘Dimensions of Pain’ held in collaboration by Durham University’s CMH and Wolfson post-graduate and early career research network. Veronique Griffith, who graduated from Yale Medical School and is now pursuing a PhD at Durham University’s Department of Anthropology, brings our attention to dualities of physical and emotional pain in current and mainstream treatments. This is complimented by a contribution by Fraser Riddell (Durham University), who offers a literary and theoretical account of pain in Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

How clinical experience and academic interest in chronic pain can foster fresh and refocused insights for the medical humanities is offered by Seamus Barker, a trained physiotherapist who coordinates the Persistent Pain Program for Ballarat Health Services in Australia and intends to pursue a PhD at the University of Sydney. Barker offers two successive posts which first explore how contemporary neuroscience can help us redefine the nature of pain and then go on to consider the implications of this for conceptualising the subject of chronic pain. Is it always ethical to validate the narratives of those people who suffer chronic pain is one of many provocative questions raised in his analysis.

The narratives of lived experience included in this collection navigate adjusting illness identities, shortfalls in chronic pain management, health and disability services, and implications for educating future health and clinical professionals. These posts are boldly and sensitively written by Sandra Weems (University of Florida) who discusses her experience of rheumatoid arthritis, and our very own Mike White who was, until recently, a researcher of Arts and Health in the CMH until his diagnosis of metastatic cancer.

A book review of ‘The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers’ by Joanne Bourke (OUP, 2014) and ‘Pain: A Political History’ by Keith Wailoo (John Hopkins University Press, 2014) will also be included in this collection.

This introductory post will be updated with the relevant hyperlinks to subsequent posts as they are released, making it an index to the series for our readers to follow. The order of currently published contributions are as follows:

‘On truth, doubts, and pain: The significance of ideas of objectivity’ by Daniel Goldberg

Relax!” Historical reflections on pain management‘ by Ayesha Nathoo

‘An image with the power to heal?’ by Leigh Rooney

‘What type of pain is it? Dualisms and thinking about pain’ by Véronique Griffith

‘”How shall we heal this evil wound?” Thinking about bodily pain in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde’ by Fraser Riddell

‘What is pain?’ by Seamus Barker

‘The divided subject of chronic pain: I don’t want pain/am in danger’ by Seamus Barker

‘Pain: From Chalkie’s demon diary’ by Mike White

‘”A question of trust”: Medical humanities can help ease the pain’ by Sandra G. Weems

We want to take this opportunity to thank our contributors for bringing this special edition on pain to fruition and we look forward to the discussion unfolding.

Please do share our posts via social media, and include the Twitter hashtag #MHpain to maximise our potential for dialogue.

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