Humanities special issue: Medical Narratives of Ill Health
The field of literature and medicine has been steadily growing over the past four decades, solidifying itself as a vital component of the medical and health humanities. The intersection of literature and medicine enriches how we view issues of health, disease, and care –particularly in how we value the individual’s narrative of health and ill health to help with diagnosis, treatment, and the relationship between the practitioner and the patient.
In an attempt to wade through the difficult terrain of defining disease and health, Kenneth Boyd provides the following medical definitions (adapted from Marshall Marinker’s earlier work): ‘Disease […] is the pathological process, deviation from a biological norm. Illness is the patient’s experience of ill health, sometimes when no disease can be found. Sickness is the role negotiated with society’ (Boyd, 1997).
What Boyd reveals about these definitions is that one allows for the individual’s experience of ill health (illness), while the other two rely on others’ perceptions of ill health. Thus, he concludes, a clear definition of disease (and even sickness) is elusive: ‘to call something a disease is a value judgement, relatively unproblematic in cases when it is widely shared, but more contentious when people disagree about it’ (Boyd, 1997). This contentious space has widened during the modern medical era (early 19th century to the present day), as medical reliance on technology favours an objective identification of disease. However, literary works, through both personal accounts and fictional scenarios, challenge this singular narrative of disease and ill health provided by the medical community.
For this special issue of Humanities, we seek to explore how literature from the early 19th century to the present day engages with and challenges modern medical authority when it comes to understanding disease, illness, and sickness. Papers for this special issue of Humanities should focus on narratives – fictional and/or non-fictional (such as medical realism, science fiction, pathographies, medical reports, etc.) – that explore the contentious space of disagreement between medicine, society, and the individual. Authors might consider topics such as: disease as metaphor; social vs medical definitions of disease; patient agency and individual experiences of illness; challenges to medical technology’s presumed objectivity; representations of contagion and/or public health – or any other topics that relate to better understanding literary representations of disease, illness, and/or sickness.
Articles should be no more than 8,000 words, inclusive of notes. The deadline for submission of articles to the guest editor is 10 January 2019. Please email articles directly to Amanda Caleb: firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for final drafts is 28 February 2019, with expected publication in early Summer 2019. Please consult the journal’s webpage for formatting instructions.