The interpretation of sensations and the recognition of symptoms of a sickness, as well as the movement to seek treatment, have long been recognised in medical anthropology as inherently social processes. Based on cases of HIV and trauma (PTSD) in Uganda, we show that even the first signs and sensations of sickness can be radically social. The sensing body can be a ‘social body’ – a family, a couple, a network – a unit that transcends the individual body. In this article, we focus on four aspects of the sociality of sensations and symptoms: mode of transmission, the shared experience of sensations/symptoms, differential recognition of symptoms, and the embodied sociality of treatment.
Embodied Socialities of HIV and Trauma in Uganda
Lotte Meinert and Susan Reynolds Whyte
Balancing Moral Possibilities in Everyday Life between Sensation, Symptom and Healthcare Seeking
Sara Marie Hebsgaard Offersen, Peter Vedsted and Rikke Sand Andersen
This article explores how healthcare-seeking practices and the transformation of bodily sensations into symptoms are embedded in what we term a ‘moral sensescape’ of ev- eryday life. Based on fieldwork in a suburban middle-class neighbourhood in Denmark, we discuss how a moral relation between the Danish welfare state and the middle-class popula- tion is embodied in a responsibility for individual health. Overall, we identify a striving to be a ‘good citizen’; this entails conflicting moral possibilities in relation to experiencing, inter- preting and acting on bodily sensations. We examine how people meet the conflicting moral possibilities of complying with current public health rhetoric on proper healthcare seeking, including timely presentation of symptoms, and simultaneously try to avoid misusing the healthcare system and be characterised as overly worried or even as a hypochondriac; this challenge constitutes complex navigational routes through the moral sensescape of the Danish middle class.
Janice M. Allan
Written in 2005 – at which point research into sensation fiction was seen to have reached a ‘crossroads’ – the sentiments expressed by Andrew Maunder resonated widely with those working within the field. Thanks, in part, to the work of Maunder himself, we have made considerable progress in effecting this ‘shift’, not simply in our thinking, but also in the subject of thought. I have in mind here his six volume collection, Varieties of Women’s Sensation Fiction: 1855–1890 (2004) which, together with the scholarly editions published by Broadview Press, Valancourt Books, and, most recently, Victorian Secrets, has served to broaden substantially the field of study and alert us to the breadth and diversity of the genre as a whole. For many of us, myself included, Maunder’s collection represented the first opportunity to read the novels of such ‘forgotten’ sensationalists as Florence Marryat, Felicia Skene, Mary Cecil Hay, and Dora Russell. The fruit of such recovery work has been evident in a number of recent publications, such as Kimberley Harrison and Richard Fantina’s Victorian Sensations: Essays on a Scandalous Genre (2006), as well as a range of journal articles, most obviously those published by Women’s Writing, that move us beyond sensationalism’s most famous triptych of texts.
Rikke Sand Andersen, Mark Nichter and Mette Bech Risør
Inspired by the sensory turn in the humanities, anthropologists have coined the term ‘an anthropology of the senses’ to describe the study of the perceptual construction and output of bodily sensations and sense-modalities (cf. Howes 2006; Nichter 2008). Starting from the premise that different cultures and social settings configure, elaborate and extend the senses in different directions, key proponents have argued for a greater empirical and analytical attention to the cultural embeddedness and socio-biological basis of bodily perception and experience. This follows a rethinking of a series of theoretical (cf. Hinton et al. 2008; Ingold 2011) and methodological commitments in anthropology (cf. Pink 2009; Stoller 2004) that also holds relevance for anthropological studies of health and illness, which is the focus of this special issue on sensations, symptoms and healthcare seeking.
The articles in this special issue show how a theoretical approach informed by the mobilities turn can reveal new facets of the history of dangerous mobility. This afterword draws together some of these lessons concerning materialities, bodily sensations, and performativity, and then considers how we might study these aspects of danger and mobility from an international, comparative, and historical methodological perspective.
The Process of Normalising Sensory Experiences after Cancer
Tone Seppola-Edvardsen and Mette Bech Risør
This article explores the process of interpreting bodily sensations after completed cancer treatment. We base our analysis on repeated interviews over a period of 12 months with eight participants who had different cancer diagnoses. By using the concepts of ‘sensa- tion schemas’ and ‘sensation scripts’, we explore how sensation schemas of cancer dominated in the first period, while schemas of late effects and reduced tolerance for daily life activities gradually became more important as time went by. Scripts, or actions taken to reduce unpleas- ant sensations, gradually turned from seeking medical advice and check-ups to ignoring and waiting for it to go away. Later, adapting daily life to the new health situation became promi- nent, such as balancing rest and activity to avoid becoming exhausted.
Exploring the Sensorial Embodiment of Class
Camilla Hoffmann Merrild, Peter Vedsted and Rikke Sand Andersen
Social inequality in cancer survival is well known, and within public health promo- tion enhancing awareness of cancer symptoms is often promoted as a way to reduce social differences in stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. In order to add to our knowledge of what may lie behind social inequalities in cancer survival encountered in many high-income countries, this article explores the situatedness of bodily sensations. Based on comparative ethnographic fieldwork, we argue that the socially and biologically informed body influences how people from lower social classes experience sensations. Overall, we point out how the sensorial is tied to the embodiment of the social situation in the sense that some bodies make more ‘noise’ than others. It follows that standardised approaches to improving early care seeking by increasing knowledge and awareness may overlook essential explanations of social differences in symptom appraisal.
Postwar American Melodrama and the Crisis of Queer Juvenility
This essay analyzes the cinematic genre convention of the “sensation scene” as a vehicle for the representation of queer crises in American juvenility during the postwar era. Through popular cinema, post-WWII America organized and communicated concerns about the production of “fit” masculine and heterosexual juveniles who would be capable of carrying out the postwar expansion of American democratic and capitalist ideologies. The sensation scene was deployed by popular films to mark queer and racialized masculinities in an aesthetic system that mirrored institutional efforts to prevent “unfit” juveniles from accessing the benefits of full social and political participation. Today, the genre device continues to structure popular film representations of and common thinking about the relative value of young, male American lives.
Sensations of History and Memory in Nagasaki City Rupert Cox
This article engages with two well-known episodes in Nagasaki's history by examining the everyday relationships between the discursive space of museums and the embodied space of walking. It is an examination of the exhibitive strategies and image conventions of sixteenth-century painted screens, namban byôbu, which depict the contact between Iberian visitors and city residents, and photographs of the trauma inflicted on victims of the atomic bombing of 1946. These two images collide in the presentation of the city to tourists, and I examine the ways that a new program of guided walks creates the opportunity for participants to experience commonplace sounds as the ephemeral residue of history. These sensations are made possible by the peripatetic routes that the guides, being long-term residents of the areas, create out of their own experiences.
Ovarian Cancer Patients’ Perspectives on Delayed Healthcare Seeking
Susanne Brandner, Wiebke Stritter, Jacqueline Müller-Nordhorn, Christina Fotopoulou, Jalid Sehouli and Christine Holmberg
Patient-related diagnostic delay has been established as an analytical category in cancer research. This category has come under critique because it postulates linear cause-and- effect explanations of delayed care-seeking. These explanations are based on a one-dimen- sional idea of causality that neglects the processual character and the contextual situatedness of bodily experiences and care-seeking decisions. Using a notion of causality that is both process-oriented and context-sensitive, this article aims to understand ovarian cancer patients’ stories on delayed healthcare seeking. It uses data from a qualitative interview study that investigated ovarian cancer patients’ illness and healthcare-seeking experiences. We suggest that the interviewees’ retrospective perspective generated a multi-layered notion of diagnostic delay that differs from the definition of patient-related delay commonly used in the litera- ture. Our analysis shows how interviewees negotiate current social discourses on health and (social) responsibility, and thereby situate themselves and their healthcare seeking within a broader socio-economic and political context.