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Pain is almost certainly the most common illness experience on the planet. Yet, it is frequently treated poorly and those who experience pain often endure scepticism, doubt and stigma for their condition. In most places around the world, pain closely tracks social power structures, which means that marginalised groups are both more likely to experience pain and are more likely to have it regarded dubiously and treated inadequately.
Moreover, while pain is a near-universal part of the human condition, it remains difficult to define and conceptualise. As Emily Dickinson famously noted, pain has an element of blank. And while pain and suffering are often experienced together, they remain distinct phenomena: some people in pain do not suffer and some people who suffer state that they are not in pain. Pain is an essential pathway to redemption for many and for others it exists only as a devastating, hollowing experience that defies meaning. In short, the paradoxes of pain are multiple, varied and slippery. While pain has not escaped scholarly attention in the medical and health humanities over the last decade, current and inequitable burdens of global pain alone justify the sustained focus and analysis contained in the current Theme Issue on Pain and Its Paradoxes. …
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