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DOI 10.12887/30-2017-4-120-07

Mateusz SZUBERT – The Anatomy of Pain: A Sociocultural Approach

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The main thesis of the article is that human beings never suffer exclusively in, or through, their body. The drama of pain necessarily takes place within a social landscape, constituting the sum of various influences, such as the tradition, the dominating worldview, the media, and the social institutions. It is the dominating culture that gives suffering a meaning, or questions it, thus affecting the scale and extent to which people experience pain.

Beginning with the 20th century, pain and suffering stopped being considered as unavoidable and ever present phenomena. In fact one may discern a distinctive mark of contemporary Western culture in its refusal to accept pain. Due the predominating orientation towards consumption and fun, the experiences of pain and suffering are carefully eliminated from the public space. The cult of vitalism cannot handle the presence of disease or the grimace of pain.

The models of understanding pain discussed in the article are contrasted with the biomedical one. The author claims that any research on pain must take into account its sociocultural context. An approach to pain which reduces its scope merely to the level of the body may even turn out harmful to patients, pain being not only a medical issue. Since the dominating set of notions concerning the experience of pain is formed by the society and culture as such, attention should be paid to its emotional and social aspects.

The author holds that the social and cultural context is extremely important not only to the interpretation of pain, but also to the definition of its intensity. It is also the social context that determines the choice of traditional or modern pain-killing techniques. Thus one may speak not only of pharmacology and herbal medicine in this context, but also about a specific cultural anesthesiology, namely, systems of religion, support communities or creative expression, all of which serve to neutralize the feeling of loneliness and defenselessness.

The article also emphasizes the problem of communication. Since pain is a highly subjective phenomenon, any attempt at measuring it is doomed to failure. Neither is pain easy to express or verbalize. Any pursuit of verbal or non-verbal ways of expressing pain is necessarily influenced by culture.

Keywords: pain, social pain, distress, suffering, history of culture, the language of pain, cross-cultural studies of pain, pain perception threshold

Contact: Katedra Kulturoznawstwa i Folklorystyki, Instytut Polonistyki i Kulturoznawstwa,
Wydział Filologiczny, Uniwersytet Opolski,
pl. Kopernika 11, 45-040 Opole, Poland

E-mail: mszubert@uni.opole.pl
Phone: +48 77 5416003

Pliki do pobrania:

» 120_Szubert.pdf

  1. ISSN 0860-8024
  2. e-ISSN 2720-5355
  3. The Republic of Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education Value: 100.00
  4. Quarterly “Ethos” is indexed by the following databases: EBSCO, CEEOL, Index Copernicus (ICV 2017: 55.26), Philosopher’s Index, ERIH Plus.
  5. DOI Prefix 10.12887