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Beyond the binaries: reshaping pain communication through arts workshops

Tarr, Jen (2018) Beyond the binaries: reshaping pain communication through arts workshops. Sociology of Health and Illness, 40 (3). pp. 577-592. ISSN 0141-9889

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1467-9566.12669


Pain is difficult to communicate and translate into language, yet most social research on pain experience uses questionnaires and semi-structured interviews that rely on words. In addition to the mind/body dualism prevalent in pain medicine (Bendelow & Williams 1995) in these studies pain communication is characterised by further value-laden binaries such as real/unreal, visible/invisible, and psychological/physical. Starting from the position that research methods play a role in constituting their object (Law & Urry 2004), this paper examines the potential of participatory arts workshops for developing different versions of pain communication. Twenty-two participants were involved in workshops using drawing, digital photography, sound and physical theatre to explore pain communication. The use of arts materials made pain tangible. By manipulating pain-related objects, participants could consider alternative relationships to their pain. Pain’s sociality was also explored, with relations with clinicians and others emerging as potentially cooperative rather than adversarial. Discussions considered whether pain felt internal or external, and whether it was possible to conceive of a self without pain. We argue that the socio-material context of participatory arts workshops enabled these alternative versions of pain. Such methods are a useful addition to medical sociology’s heavy reliance on qualitative interviewing (Lawton 2003).

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2017 08:34
Last Modified: 15 May 2024 23:11

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