Dreaming the Dark Side of the Body: Pain as Transformation in Three Ethnographic Cases

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The body in-pain has regularly been relegated to “the dark side”of Western biomedicine, academic research, and even everyday life. Following Starhawk’s aptly titled resuscitation of “the dark”as a fertile source of spiritual transformation (Dreaming the Dark, 1982), this essay examines the ways in which intractable pain can open up the body to “a new body in the making” -one that engages with pain kinesthetically as well as discursively. This essay explores three ethnographic cases emerging from three different American fieldvvork sites. An Internet mailing list called WITSENDO constitutes the first case; through often daily participation in this electronic mailing list, women suffering from endometriosis co-create a virtual community that strikingly mitigates their experiences of chronicand intense pain. The shift in how long-term clients of acupuncture care regard needling is the locus of the second case. Acupuncture treatments in American clinical settings often negotiate an American cultural assumption that needles are painful; this second case documents what happens to patients’ “fear” of needles and experiences of pain after regular acupuncture treatments. The third case focuses on adepth interview with an American doula who provides labor support for women primarily in hospital settings, this interview explores the conditions under which American women in labor experience pain and how alternative birth professionals define and conceive of pain during childbirth. These three ethnographic cases highlight the cultural construction of pain by delving into the ways that pain sufferers and health care practitioners engage with the body-in-pain. Such engagements occur in the realm of language - both discursive and kinesthetic language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalAnthropology of Consciousness
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2003

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