ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Chronic Pain, Liminality, Sick Role
Course CodeANTHROP 3HI3
ProfessorDr. Rebecca Plett
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• Between birth and death, we "become" a person, subject to institutions that "create" these
persons, and the boundaries that construct them as normal
• How do we constitute the self? What is a person?
o They are subject to institutions that constitute normalcy in certain ways
o Boundary transgressions tell us about the limits of both the institutions and the person, and
tell us how they are constituted
• How can bodies be "subject" to institutions? How can institutions "control" or "discipline"? How
do we know what boundaries are in place?
• "having power over bodies" to manage or control populations
o This gets encoded/enacted in social practices and behaviour to make us subject to
o Human life processes are managed under regimes of authority through knowledge and
power, to make us subjects
• Birth - who "gets" to have a baby and who is shamed for having one? How are you "having" a
baby, and where?
o Medicalization of birth
• 2 examples from Sharp and Jackson also help us understand both the boundaries of the self, and
how institutions create "person" and discipline bodies:
o Chronic pain - challenges the division of mind and body
o Organ transplantation - what happens to "the person" when parts of it get moved?
• Both phenomena exemplify the importance of the "3 bodies" that Lock and Scheper-Hughes
o Chronic pain links the individual body to a socially-constructed sick role
o Organ transportation links parts of bodies to institutions of control, and global markets that
teach us about systems of privilege and power
• Why do chronic pain sufferers experience stigma?
o They directly transgress boundaries:
• Of mind and body
• Of sick and healthy
• As a result, we don't know what to do with people experiencing chronic pain, so we stigmatize
• People with chronic pain are in a liminal state:
• As "matter out of place" (something unclear and contradictory), the initiates in the liminal stage of
a rite of passage are both structurally invisible and ritually polluting
o Symbolically, initiates are often hidden, removed to a sacred place, disguised, or concealed -
they become invisible, betwixt and between stages, no longer classified and not yet
• Initiates also have nothing - no status, property, kinship position, not acting out institutionalized
• For those experiencing chronic pain, they are in this liminal state - we don't know what to do with
them so they are stigmatized
• What is pain and how can it be stigmatizing?
o "an aversive feeling experienced in the body that cannot be measured directly"
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