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Lecture 4

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Chronic Pain, Medicalization, Somatization

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ANTHROP 3PD3 Lecture 04
January 18, 2016 January 18, 2016
Priscilla Medeiros, 1
The Anthropology of Pain
Cultural, personal, biological and situational contexts are incorporated into pain
understanding in anthropology
Defining Pain:
Generally think of pain as an outward manifestation
o Occurs when a nerve or nerve ending is stimulated from either within or outside
of the body
o Fails to consider social and cultural influencesthis is the primary focus of
Pain is an inseparable part of everyday life
o i.e. Howard: pain is a result of working, doing work around the house, throwing a
ball around with his son it bothers him at work, at home, etc.
Many forms of healing or diagnosis also involve some form of pain
o Most common reason to seek medical diagnosis is pain (40%)
o There is always more pain than simply the physical aspect of it
Pain cannot be measured
o Pg. 72 self defeating problems of pain removing pain removes hurting
relationships and stress (social aspects of pain)
Defining Chronic Pain:
Poses unique problems for sufferers and for those around them (focus of this week)
Affects every aspect of their life
Leads to frustration and distrust in practitioners who are unable to explain or effectively
treat their illness
o Howard has seen a large variety of practitioners/treatments but has yet to feel
any relief he is beginning to become distrustful of the biomedical healthcare
system as a result
Often intimately linked to social and psychological problems
o Interpersonal relationships can cause pain
No natural course of disease, even for patients with identical diseases
Challenges our knowledge of biomedicine and the human mind
Acute Pain:
o Shorter duration and will resolve itself when the body heals whereas chronic
conditions do not
Classifying Pain Behaviour:
1. Private Pain
o To know whether a person is in pain, we are dependent on that person signalling
that fact to us, either verbally or non-verbally
§ When this happens, pain becomes a social event
o Often invisible and difficult to communicate to others
o Can result in a sense of isolation because inability for the person to communicate
their pain and make it ‘believable’
o In some cultures, feeling pain without flinching is a sign of manhood
§ Example: A young man who wants to display his manhood and gain
social prestige will undergo ritual self-torture in the Sundance ceremony
insert arrows into their chest?
§ Howard: Trying to find something in his environment that he can hold onto
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