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Lecture 5

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Chronic Pain, Liminality, Sick Role

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Dr. Rebecca Plett

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The life-course
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
Jean jackson
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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