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Pain, objectivity and history: understanding pain stigma

Abstract

The primary claim of this paper is that understanding the stigma so commonly endured by chronic pain sufferers today in the USA and the UK is unlikely without proper appreciation of the history of pain. Ameliorating such stigma is an ethical imperative, and yet most approaches eschew even an attempt to trace connections between historical attitudes, practices and beliefs towards pain and the stigmatisation so many pain sufferers currently endure. The manuscript aims to help fill this gap by framing pain in the modern era in context of two crucial intellectual schemes that waxed in the 19th and 20th centuries: mechanical objectivity and somaticism. The analysis explains these frameworks and applies them to exploration of primary sources connected to contested pain conditions such as railway spine. By properly situating the historical roots of what it means to cite the ‘subjectivity’ of pain as a problem, the modern roots of stigmatising attitudes and practices towards chronic pain sufferers become much clearer. The manuscript concludes by suggesting that interventions expressly intended to target the root causes of such stigma are much more likely to be successful than approaches that proceed in ignorance of the historical forces shaping and driving pain stigma in the present.

  • Pain management
  • History
  • Health policy

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