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Language, Literature, and Interdisciplinary Studies (LLIDS) - Rethinking Body in Medical Humanities

Having its coinage in the context of history of science by George Sarton in 1948, Medical Humanities has grown into an exciting area of interdisciplinary inquiry that allows interrogation into a range of concerns around human illness and wellness. The origins of medical humanities, however, lies in the debates on bioethics in the post WWII period. Yet it would perhaps be misleading to anchor this new field of inquiry in a particular monolithic cultural moment. In fact, the emergence of medical humanities is a multi-factorial phenomenon—which includes the clinical divide between medical science and arts/humanities, curriculum reforms in medical education, pharmaceutical and technological advances, etc.—that brings biomedical science, particularly the theoretical and practical issues in the domain of medicine, clinical practices, and medical ethics in a critical dialogue with humanities and social sciences. In doing so, it pertinently deals with questions of bodily experience of disease, patient-practitioner relationship, health policies and infrastructure, narrative ethics, palliative care, suffering, illness narrative, gerontology, and medical technology.

Disease and illness are usually conflated but studies drawing upon phenomenology differentiate between the two—disease is defined as a physiological dysfunction of the body, a measured deviation from the ‘normal’ whereas illness is seen as lived experience of the disease. The dynamics of battling with the sick body, while concentrating on individual’s potential to fight with resilience, also emphasizes care-centred approaches towards ailment, diagnosis, and treatment. It is therefore oriented towards viewing the transformative effect of/on caregiving individuals and communities, restoring and enhancing the well-being through their concern for the sick bodies. Practices involving human touch, love, music, storytelling, and generating narratives, among others contribute to such recovery procedures. In the wake of medical humanities, illness narratives and pathography have received renewed attention promoting vigorous inquiries into the representation of illness, cure, medicine, and health. In addition, it also brings into sharp relief the triangle of patients, medical practitioner, and relatives and friend who take care of patients. Written accounts of medical professionals, patients, and other forms of life narratives allow medical humanities scholars to tease out the complexity of human experience and thereby generate intersubjective knowledge where biomedicine and humanities cross-pollinate each other. The incursion of creative practices in patient care, informal group support, value education, and therapeutic practices have reordered the core areas that need attention in addressing global health challenges.

The foregrounding of humanities, its intellectual and imaginative resources, to explore the practices and perspectives in the training of healthcare professionals is at the forefront of medical humanities. Collaborative cross-disciplinary work has oriented towards mapping the understanding of health practices beyond biological essentialism. The traditional repertoire of humanities like language competence, understanding of patients’ story, metaphors, etc., plays a crucial role in enabling more caring professionals and finely tuned healthcare practices. Drawing on the centrality of body within Medical Humanities, the current Issue of LLIDS invites scholarly work based on and extending beyond the following themes:


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