Beyond the binaries: Reshaping pain communication through arts workshops

Tarr, JS; Cornish, F and Gonzalez-Polledo, EJ. 2018. Beyond the binaries: Reshaping pain communication through arts workshops. Sociology of Health & Illness, 40(3), pp. 577-592. ISSN 0141-9889 [Article]

Chronic pain binaries resubmitted September 2017.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (4MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Pain is difficult to communicate and translate into language, yet most social research on pain experience uses questionnaires and semi-structured interviews that rely on words. In addition to the mind/body dualism prevalent in pain medicine (Bendelow & Williams 1995) in these studies pain communication is characterised by further value-laden binaries such as real/unreal, visible/invisible, and psychological/physical. Starting from the position that research methods play a role in constituting their object (Law & Urry 2004), this paper examines the potential of participatory arts workshops for developing different versions of pain communication. Twenty-two participants were involved in workshops using drawing, digital photography, sound and physical theatre to explore pain communication. The use of arts materials made pain tangible. By manipulating pain-related objects, participants could consider alternative relationships to their pain. Pain’s sociality was also explored, with relations with clinicians and others emerging as potentially cooperative rather than adversarial. Discussions considered whether pain felt internal or external, and whether it was possible to conceive of a self without pain. We argue that the socio-material context of participatory arts workshops enabled these alternative versions of pain. Such methods are a useful addition to medical sociology’s heavy reliance on qualitative interviewing (Lawton 2003).

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


chronic illness, long-term illness, pain, methodology, participatory research, visual methods

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



2 October 2017Accepted
13 February 2018Published Online
1 March 2018Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

12 Oct 2017 12:53

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:40

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)