Silent body – Speaking mind: how to transcend this schism?
Anna Luise Kirkengen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

September 24, 2013, 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol

Room G16
Cotham House, University of Bristol
United Kingdom

Topic areas


Silent body – Speaking mind: how to transcend this schism?

Anna Luise Kirkengen MD PhD1, Eline Thornquist PhD2

(1) General Practice Research Unit, Department of Public Health and General Practice, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

E-mail: [email protected]

(2) Department of Physiotherapy, University College of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

Ever more solid evidence bespeaks a strong relationship between experienced pain, fear and powerlessness and various forms of disorders. Much research documents correlations between human experiences and disorders. This knowledge points, however, to its own methodologically based limitations, unidentifiable within the same framework since it can only say that experiences and disorders are related, but not how and why. In attempting to answer the question of how experiences are incorporated, and why, in particular early lifetime experiences are inscribed on all bodily levels (organ, tissues, cells and genes), clinicians and researchers are faced with the challenges to generate knowledge about conditions and processes that can throw light on these documented correlations.

This task requires, however, analytical tools and perspectives extrinsic to medicine. In our paper, we refer to the phenomenological tradition and draw inspiration from the social sciences. Of particular importance are the contributions from phenomenology linking subjectivity to the human body, a fundamental premise for superseding the traditional dichotomies between matter and mind, nature and culture, and other dichotomies in their wake. The knowledge that experiences of violation and sickness are related can be regarded as an invitation to clinicians and researchers to scrutinize their own conceptualizations and classificatory schemes. Likewise, they are urged to reflect on a necessary reorientation of traditional habits of mind. If the scientific community, however, chooses to ignore these challenges, it risks contributing to veiling burdening experiences and socio-cultural injustice by diagnosing violated persons as if they were diseased from “natural” origins.    

In this paper, we want to explore two interrelated topics concerning human health and current biomedical, clinical practice. Firstly, we reflect upon how people are affected, with regard to their health, when their integrity is violated. Secondly, we elaborate how people whose bodily aliments induced by violation are met and understood by doctors or other health care providers. Thirdly, we argue that the evidence for adverse impact on health of violation experience makes obvious that current biomedical theory is inappropriate and calls for the phenomenological concept of the lived body. This, however, demands making first person accounts about lived life and shared values relevant in medical settings. This implies appraising narratives about personal experiences as significant sources for medical insight. We will offer such an insight by means of analyzing a history of chronic, medically unexplained multi-morbidity by means of a narrative about past, silenced violation.

Room G16, Cotham House 
Department of Philosophy
University of Bristol


Seminars take place on Tuesdays, 5-6.30, location tba

31/10  Ronald Schleifer (Oklahoma, US) (MH)

26/11  Antonio Casado da Rocha (San Sebastian, Spain) (MH/ Phil Med), Four concepts of patient autonomy

10/12  Angela Woods (Durham) (MH)

4/2      Matthew Ratcliffe (Durham) (Phil Med)

11/2   Neil Vickers (King’s College London) (MH)

18/2   Christian Skirke (Amsterdam) (Phil Med), Empathy and reflection
11/3   Lisa Bortolotti (Birmingham) (Phil Med), Can distorted memories be epistemically innocent?

18/3   Clare Hanson (Southampton) (MH)

20/5   Sander Gilman (Emory) – (MH)



The Medical Humanities seminars are organised by Havi Carel (Philosophy) and Ulrika Maude (English). For more information please contact Havi Carel ([email protected])

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