CFP: Special issue on "Self-illness ambiguity and narrative identity"

Submission deadline: February 1, 2021

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Special issue of Philosophical Explorations on:

“Self-illness ambiguity and narrative identity”


Guest editors: Leon de Bruin (Radboud University) and Roy Dings (Ruhr University Bochum)

Deadline: February 1st 2021


Psychiatric classification systems serve many functions - they are not only used by clinicians and researchers for diagnostic purposes, but also by insurance companies to determine reimbursements, by welfare institutions to determine compensation, by lawyers to determine competence, etc. However, psychiatric classification systems are not well equipped for the task of self-understanding (Tekin 2015). Patients who are diagnosed with a mental disorder often find it difficult to make sense of themselves in relation to their mental disorder. Specifically, they have problems with distinguishing their ‘self’, or ‘who they are’, from their mental disorder or diagnosis (Sadler 2007;  Dings & Glas 2020; Dings 2020). This phenomenon is also called ‘self-illness ambiguity’, and it is expressed in statements such as “Is it me or my mental disorder?” and “I don’t know who I am anymore”.

The aim of this special issue is to investigate the relation between self-illness ambiguity and narrative identity. When patients try to make sense of their experiences, they seem to be asking: “What makes those experiences mine?” This is what Schechtman (1996) calls the characterization question: what are the conditions under which various psychological characteristics, experiences, and actions are properly attributable to a person? According to theories of narrative identity, what makes an action, experience, or psychological characteristic properly attributable to some person is its correct incorporation into the self-told story of his or her life. How and to what extent are contemporary theories of narrative identity able to address and account for the phenomenon of self-illness ambiguity? Take the example that Karp (1994) provides, of a patient with a tendency to drop out of college courses. She claims that her behaviour is not properly attributable to her as a person: “It’s the illness”. What is the relation between this patient’s illness and her self-narrative, and what does this imply for how we answer the characterization question?

We invite papers to contribute to this special issue, focusing, amongst others, on the following topics:

•        investigate how self-illness ambiguity manifests itself in different mental illnesses

•        examine how the context insensitivity and hyponarrativity of psychiatric classification systems, such as the DSM, contribute to self-illness ambiguity

•        explore the impact of self-illness ambiguity on the characterization question and vice-versa

•        discuss the role of metaphors in the process of resolving self-illness ambiguity

•        analyze the role of stigma and labeling in self-illness ambiguity

•        investigate neurodiversity and cultural differences in self-illness ambiguity

•        discuss related self-ambiguities, e.g. what is the role of narrative identity in coming to terms with the effects of medication or treatments such as deep brain stimulation?


In addition to papers selected from this Call for Papers, the special issue will contain invited contributions by Anna Bortolan (Swansea University), Francesca Ervas (University of Cagliari), Gerrit Glas (VU University Amsterdam), Sanneke de Haan (Tilburg University), Allan Køster (Aalborg University), Matthew Ratcliffe (University of York), Marya Schechtman (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Şerife Tekin (University of Texas at San Antonio).


Guidelines for submitting a paper: When preparing your paper, please take into account the Instructions for authors on the website of Philosophical Explorations. Contributions should contain an abstract of 200 words, and the full paper should not be over 10,000 words, including abstract, references, endnotes. The deadline for submission is  February 1, 2021.



For further questions, please hesitate the (guest)editors, Leon de Bruin ( or Roy Dings (

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