Sunday, February 8, 2009


This week's readings has many points to start a discussion. Many notable ones talk of pain as a human experience and situated in the body. Indeed, how do we manifest pain or is pain itself a manifestation? The health communication concern and the concern of the many health organizations in the US it to create constructs around it, quantify it, isolate it and advertise and sell treatment for it, the fancy "disorders" patented under exotic names. This is what Kleinman, (1992) call the political economic transformation of pain and its treatment. I found myself wondering, of course we all agree that converting socio-somatic processes into biological terminology is reductionist but hasn't that been the enterprise of much of the positivist scholars and yet alive and kicking now in NSF funding criteria and erstwhile "Bush" science (St. Pierrie, 2006). My primary education being in Physics and Management, I am very amused to see all these scholars studying human behavior go blue in their faces trying to emulate the hard sciences.  For me as an Indian, the concept of pain is different. Indian scriptures lay down that mental pain is far worse than physican pain. The Indian sage Patanjali in his work "Yogasutra" wrote that people suffer from five types of mental pain viz., false knowledge, egotism, attachment, contempt and fear of death. Similarly, other scholars hold that pain is an ailment of the body and not of the indestructible, eternal soul. There are many alternative treatment for pain in India but the none in the larger discourse of western medicine. Veena Das (1997) has tried in vain to capture the languages through which pain can be looked at by social science. She quotes the beautiful and poignant works of Manto, the reading of which is disturbing in many ways. The frame in which the father proclaims that his daughter is alive and the sweat on the doctors' brow after the movement in the corpse which arose in response to the shouted command "Khol Do" (open it!!). This moment is so suffused with pain and suffering for me, I do not need the evidence based science to label it as pain and suffering. 
I do not know, the more I read these scholarly articulations, the more I feel the need to make a change and the fact that these works do not make a cent of difference in the lives of the marginalized or rather if the marginalized do not exist whither goest our scholarship!! In my anthropology class, I read an article about Buddhism and its tenets and how it talks about suffering being a part of life which we have to constantly negotiate in reaching the state of the enlightened (the Buddha). This is very similar to my cosmology which calls for pain and pleasure as two sides of the same coin and so a part of my meaning making. As a health communication/ public health scholar wishing to make a change I realize that narratives of pain and suffering are embodied in the human body and human experience and are inevitable in this unequal world. What is crucial for me is to understand, listen and be cognizant that with my well meaning actions, I could be a reductionist, inflict erasures, and marginalize the already marginalized. .

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