Giving an Account of One’s Pain in the Anthropological Interview
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-009-9162-2
In this paper, I analyze the illness stories narrated by a mother and her 13-year-old son as part of an ethnographic study of child chronic pain sufferers and their families. In examining some of the moral, relational and communicative challenges of giving an account of one’s pain, I focus on what is left out of some accounts of illness and suffering and explore some possible reasons for these elisions. Drawing on recent work by Judith Butler (Giving an Account of Oneself, 2005), I investigate how the pragmatic context of interviews can introduce a form of symbolic violence to narrative accounts. Specifically, I use the term “genre of complaint” to highlight how anthropological research interviews in biomedical settings invoke certain typified forms of suffering that call for the rectification of perceived injustices. Interview narratives articulated in the genre of complaint privilege specific types of pain and suffering and cast others into the background. Giving an account of one’s pain is thus a strategic and selective process, creating interruptions and silences as much as moments of clarity. Therefore, I argue that medical anthropologists ought to attend more closely to the institutional structures and relations that shape the production of illness narratives in interview encounters.