Medically unexplained symptoms, hysteria, neurasthenia, hypochondria, psychogenic illness, somatic symptoms, functional illness, malingering—there is ongoing debate amongst specialists in medicine, psychology, sociology, and the medical humanities about how to classify, diagnose, treat, and explain disorders affecting body and mind. Meanwhile, in popular culture, these terms are misunderstood, unknown, or rejected outright—what was once called “psychosomatic” illness is heavily stigmatized amongst lay people, while the associated syndromes have become the site of controversy and antipathy in the provider-patient relationship. The DSM-5 outlines diagnostic criteria for illness anxiety and somatic symptoms disorder; medically unexplained symptoms account for as much as 50% of primary care visits; we make fun of hypochondria in sit-coms; patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and post-treatment lyme disease syndrome form online communities for support and advocacy—all of these constituents might be talking about several different disorders, or one, or none. Despite the common experience of being told that their symptoms are imaginary, all in their heads, patients are experiencing a very real illness phenomenon at the intersection of mind and body. But what is it? Physical or mental illness? political and social identity? cultural, narrative, and/or discursive construction?
The proposed collection invites interdisciplinary analysis of the phenomenon of “psychosomatic” illness as it is (mis)understood in expert and popular culture. Possible themes or topics include:
- the persistence of mind-body dualism in both expert and lay concepts of illness and wellness
- the connection between stress and illness in popular culture
- the struggle to establish scientific, social, and cultural legitimacy for controversial diagnoses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, post-treatment lyme disease syndrome, fibromyalgia (ME)
- the evolution of syndromes and the role of cultural and scientific context
the role of gender, race, and class in expert and lay constructions of “psychosomatic” illness and patient identity
- the representation of psychosomatic and/or contested illness in self-help and wellness programs, magazines, and websites
- stereotypes and stigmatization of hypochondria, “hysteria,” or malingering in medical and popular culture
- the relative invisibility of psychosomatic and/or contested illness in fictional narrative (from literary fiction to medical melodramas on tv)
- the role of medical narrative/narrative medicine in mediating provider-patient conflict about medically unexplained or somatic symptoms and controversial diagnoses
Essays should be interdisciplinary in scope and engaging to a diverse, non-specialist audience. Please send 500-word proposals and a CV to Carol-Ann Farkas by February 29th 2016. We have a contract with the publisher and are trying to round out the existing contributions. Complete manuscript due to the publisher by August 31st 2016.